When you’ve been injured because someone else was negligent, you may be entitled to several different types of damages. In Ohio, the damages available fall into three general categories:
- Economic Damages, which include actual costs and financial losses such as medical expenses and lost income;
- Non-Economic Damages, which include compensation for non-measurable losses such as pain and suffering and loss of quality of life;
- Punitive Damages, which aren’t actually based on harm suffered by the plaintiff-instead, punitive damages are designed to deter this type of bad behavior in the plaintiff and others. These damages are not available for simple negligence, but only when “the actions or omissions of that defendant demonstrate malice or aggravated or egregious fraud” or that the defendant knowingly allowed or ratified such actions in a servant or agent.
The first two types of damages are grouped together as “compensatory damages,” since they are intended to compensate the injured party. Punitive damages, which are sometimes called “exemplary damages,” are non-compensatory.
In both personal injury and medical malpractice cases, there is no cap on economic damages. Since these damages represent actual monetary losses, they are measurable and the full amount of the loss may be recovered. However, there are limits on both non-economic compensatory damages and punitive damages.
Why are Some Types of Damages Limited in Ohio?
The short answer to this question is that insurance companies and the medical profession have been very successful in convincing legislators and the public that large verdicts in lawsuits are bad for society. They’ve worked hard to create the impression that someone who receives a lot of money in a lawsuit has received a “windfall” at the expense of the company and–in turn–its customers and the public.
You’ve probably heard some “outrageous” stories about personal injury verdicts, like the infamous McDonald’s coffee case. Usually when that happens, there’s a lot they’re not telling you.
One thing insurance companies and big businesses that are negligent with your safety don’t want you to think about is the reason for each of these types of damages. For example, punitive damages are intended as a deterrent. The damages only serve their purpose if they make it expensive enough for the company or its insurer that they want to make sure to never face that type of payout again–and that others in the industry learn the same lesson.
When those limits are low compared with a company’s profits, it’s easy to consider those damages a cost of doing business. That means the company can afford to be less concerned about your safety.
What are the Ohio Damage Caps?
Under Ohio law, non-economic compensatory damages such as damages for loss of enjoyment of life, loss of companionship, and pain and suffering are limited to $250,000 or three times the economic damages–whichever is greater. But there’s another cap. Regardless of how high economic damages are, non-economic damages are limited to a maximum of $350,000 per plaintiff and $500,000 per incident.
For example, if economic damages are $1,000,000, the first step in the damage cap calculation says the plaintiff could receive up to $3,000,000 in non-economic damages–three times the economic damages. But the second step knocks that $3,000,000 down to $350,000. Even if the jury awards more, the judge must limit the award to $350,000.
Punitive damages are limited to twice the amount of compensatory damages awarded in the case. There are further limits for some types of defendants, such as individuals and small employers.
The limits are the same for medical malpractice cases.
Exceptions to Damage Caps
The limitations described above apply in most personal injury and medical malpractice cases in Ohio. But there are a few exceptions. Non-economic damage caps are increased to $500,000 per plaintiff and $1,000,000 per incident if the non-economic losses are associated with:
- Permanent and substantial physical deformity, loss of use of a limb, or loss of a bodily organ system, or
- Permanent physical functional injury that permanently prevents the injured person from being able to independently care for themselves and perform life-sustaining activities.
Ohio Juries and Damage Caps
The jury in an Ohio personal injury case is asked to make specific awards for economic and non-economic damages. But Ohio law prohibits the judge, the attorneys, and the parties from telling the jury about the caps. That means that the way juries allocate damages can affect the final award in ways they don’t expect.
Imagine, for example, that two juries awarded two similar plaintiffs each $1,000,000.
The first jury attributed $750,000 of that award to economic damages and $250,000 to non-economic damages. The trial court’s judgment would be for $1,000,000.
The second jury awarded $250,000 in economic damages and $750,000 in non-economic damages. The trial court’s judgment would be for $600,000: $250,000 for economic damages plus the maximum allowed $350,000 in non-economic damages.
This is one reason it’s so important to work with an Ohio personal injury or medical malpractice attorney who has extensive experience in documenting economic damages, working with economic experts, and clearly presenting those economic losses to the jury to ensure that such losses are properly classified in the jury’s award of damages.
If you’ve been injured through someone else’s negligence in or around Cleveland or Columbus, give yourself the advantage of knowledgeable guidance. Plevin & Gallucci has been helping Ohio injury victims for decades. We offer free consultations to help you make the best possible choices for your future. Just call 855-4PLEVIN or fill out the contact form on this page to learn more.