The medical malpractice damages cap in Ohio hurts poor families

On Behalf of | Feb 17, 2023 | Medical Malpractice

In April 2003, the Ohio Revised Code was amended to cap the amount of noneconomic damages that can be awarded in medical malpractice cases. The revision was applauded by groups advocating for tort reform, but it has been condemned by some of the country’s most distinguished legal organizations. Tort reform became a hot-button political issue when public opinion was swayed by news stories about frivolous lawsuits that clogged up civil court dockets and targeted small businesses, but the outcome of the ensuing outrage has been laws that experts say unfairly punish the poor.

Noneconomic damages

Noneconomic damages are awarded in medical malpractice cases to compensate victims for their pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of consortium and loss of the enjoyment of life. Under the revised rules, noneconomic damages are capped at either $250,000 or three times the economic damages, whichever is greater. However, noneconomic damages cannot exceed $350,000 if only one plaintiff is involved regardless of the amount of economic damages awarded. This may seem like plenty of compensation, but the damages cap conceals a growing and worrying legal issue that is disproportionately affecting poor families.

No remedies

Economic damages in medical malpractice cases are based largely on lost income, so they tend to be modest when plaintiffs do not earn very much money. Attorneys usually take these cases on a contingency basis, but they are rarely interested in representing poor plaintiffs with cases that could be expensive to litigate and may take years to resolve. In 2016, the American Bar Association urged Congress not to introduce a nationwide cap on medical malpractice noneconomic damages for these very reasons. The ABA also pointed out in its letter that laws like the medical malpractice damages cap in Ohio are unnecessary because the courts already have the power to reduce awards that they consider excessive.

Good intentions

It is said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and the medical malpractice damages cap is an example of that adage in action. The law was passed to ease the burden on the courts and protect small businesses from frivolous lawsuits, but its effect has been devastating on poor families who have suffered injury, loss or damage due to the negligent actions of doctors and hospitals. Legislators wanted to make the system fairer, but the law they passed is denying legal remedies to those who need them the most.