Six years ago, 59-year-old May Hicks was struck by a vehicle as she walked out of Scioto Downs Casino and Racetrack in Southern Columbus. In addition to a shattered lower leg and ankle, May sustained head injuries and partial hearing loss. She was hospitalized for eight days, then confined to bed for four months, and for the remainder of her days she will need a cane to aid in walking. Her ankle will never function normally again. The Casino/Raceway refused to pay. Claiming they had done nothing wrong, they offered to pay only $15,000 to May for her injuries and medical bills.
In October 2019, Shawn Dingus and Mike Guluzian represented May in a jury trial against the driver and Scioto Downs. After four days of testimony, the jury found both the driver and Scioto Downs responsible for causing May’s injuries and awarded her the sum of $3,925,000 in damages. The jury found the driver negligent for failing to yield the right-of-way to May and found Scioto Downs responsible for failing to protect its customers, from whom it makes millions of dollars each year. Specifically, the evidence showed that Scioto Downs funneled pedestrians to a dangerous area leading away from the casino to its parking lot, failing to erect any signs warning drivers they were approaching a crosswalk or to take other actions to protect its customers once they left the casino. Compounding these failures, the casino also chose to park a shuttle bus on the roadway that partially obstructed the view of both drivers and pedestrians. These failures played a significant role in the events that would forever change May’s life.
Unfortunately, Ohio law will prevent May from receiving what a jury of eight Ohio citizens determined she deserved. In the end, May will likely receive only one tenth the of the actual verdict amount.
Why? Tort reform.
You may have heard it mentioned in the news once or twice. It sounds like something an older British gentleman wearing a powdered wig might declare in Parliament.
In reality, it’s a very American issue, and it’s costing deserving Ohioans like May Hicks millions in rightful compensation. Which is why at Plymale & Dingus we call it “tort deform.”
Tort reform is politician talk, worded to convince you, the public, that substantial jury verdicts for serious injuries need to be reined in. So, legislation was passed by the Ohio legislature in 2005 which limits the amount of damages an injured person can receive to $250,000 in most cases, up to an absolute maximum of $350,000 where the injured person’s medical expenses exceed $120,000.
It’s a win for large businesses like Scioto Downs and insurance companies that go to trial knowing they can’t be held liable for more than $350,000—a drop in the bucket compared to what they should be accountable for.
It’s a loss for May Hicks, a beloved figure in her community who runs a small market that’s a favorite for local fireman, police, and veterans.
And it’s a loss for democracy. Trial by jury is an essential part of our democratic system and, in fact, that right is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. Trial by jury does not always yield a just result, but experience teaches us that citizen participation in the process of administering justice is part of the glue that keeps us on the pathway of democracy. The Legislature’s so called “Tort Reform” nullifies the jury’s verdict and renders this and many such jury verdicts nearly meaningless, essentially saying that juries can’t be trusted to decide how to compensate injured victims. Of course, the Ohio “tort reform” says nothing about very low or inadequate jury verdicts. It addresses and greatly reduces only verdicts for the most severely injured. Those citizens who are most deserving of substantial money damages are now, by law, limited in the recovery of those damages. In our opinion, in passing this law, the Ohio legislature has catered to the desires of big business and sent the message that Ohio citizens are too dumb to be trusted with deciding what is just and fair. Instead, the legislature has declared that they are superior to those who voted them into office. Moreover, the imposed limits on damage recovery apply to all jury verdicts without the legislators having heard one word of the evidence in the case. In doing so, our legislature has also sent another message to Ohio citizens: that the bottom line of big businesses is of more importance to them than the safety and welfare of its own citizens.
Tort reform affects every liability case in Ohio, save only the most extreme cases (paraplegia, loss of a limb, death, etc.) and it has been enacted and enabled by legislators in the Ohio statehouse who have failed to amend it in any serious manner over the last 14 years.
Thanks to this law and the legislators who refuse to abandon this incursion on our right to trial by jury, injured Ohioans, like May Hicks, are not only being deprived of millions of dollars, they are also being deprived of their Constitutional right to trial by jury. Instead, as in many autocratic countries, this part of our Constitutionally protected “Right to Trial by Jury” is no longer “inviolate.”