Is Law Mandating Bifurcated Trials When Tort Plaintiffs Seek Both Compensatory and Punitive Damages Unconstitutional?
Based on Conflict With Court Rule That Gives Judges Discretion in All Cases
Sandra Havel v. Villa St. Joseph et al., Case no. 2010-2148
8th District Court of Appeals (Cuyahoga County)
ISSUE: R.C. 231521(B), a “tort reform” statute enacted in 2005, requires Ohio trial courts to grant a party’s motion for a bifurcated trial in all tort cases where the plaintiff seeks to recover both compensatory and punitive damages. In a bifurcated trial, the proceedings are divided into two distinct stages. During the first stage, only evidence and testimony regarding the actual injuries or economic losses claimed by the plaintiff may be presented, and the jury is limited to finding whether and to what extent the plaintiff is entitled to be compensated for those losses. In a second stage that commences only after compensatory damages have been decided, the parties present evidence and testimony regarding alleged wrongdoing by the defendant for which the plaintiff seeks additional damages designed to punish the wrongdoer rather than to compensate the plaintiff for his injuries.