If you’re like most, it’s hard to picture what confusing legislative
language means for your own personal life. But imagine you are seriously
injured while undergoing a procedure at a state university hospital. You
file a lawsuit against a State University Hospital in the Ohio Court of
Claims, win at trial and receive a judgment recognizing that you have
suffered $100,000 in damages.
But it doesn’t end here. The Court of Claims determines that the doctor, who works for a private
entity and therefore cannot be sued in the Court of Claims (and in fact
must be sued first), and the hospital are each 50% at fault for your injuries,
which means both the doctor and the hospital should be liable for $50,000.
Unfortunately, the law says that if the doctor has already paid his $50,000
in a settlement first, the hospital can
also “setoff” or subtract what the doctor has paid, so the hospital
now owes you nothing – zero. You were severely harmed by their medical
errors, and as a result, your expenses have soared, and your life is changed
forever. But you are suddenly left with just the $50,000 settlement from
the doctor - only half of the compensation you were entitled to.
A bill that has recently been proposed in the Ohio General Assembly will
allow for this baffling result, and create yet another hurdle for victims
of negligence in Ohio who seek due compensation in the civil justice system.
Senate Bill 56 will create this “double set-off”, allowing
negligent state employees to deduct
both the amount paid in settlement
and a percentage of fault attributable to co-defendants who are not employed
by the State of Ohio. Supporters argue S.B. 56 would prevent state universities
from being subjected to excess liabilities when another entity has paid
a settlement. But instead, it allows negligent state university hospitals
to “double dip” and avoid their share of responsibility for
If passed as is, S.B. 56 is likely to leave victims of negligence severely
undercompensated, through no fault of their own.
Recently, R&B attorney Michael Rourke testified before the Senate Civil
Justice Committee in opposition to the bill as currently drafted. Speaking
on behalf of a consortium of like-minded attorneys and injured victims
of negligence, Michael and the attorneys at R&B have offered to work
with the proponents of the bill to draft a compromise amendment which
will alleviate any concerns of excess liability as against state universities
while at the same time ensuring that the scenario described above is avoided.
Even with highly meritorious claims, negligence and medical malpractice
victims begin the litigation with odds stacked against them. Numerous
statutory roadblocks are already in place to protect defendants and insurance
companies, including damage caps, or limits on the amount the injured
party can collect in a civil lawsuit, and other “tort reform”
measures as well. (See our
previous blog about the danger of damage caps in products liability cases). This firm
is advocating for S.B. 56 to be re-written so it balances everyone’s
legitimate interests and is fair to Ohio universities and Ohio citizens
alike. But if passed as-is, S.B. 56 will become another obstacle to fair
compensation for Ohio victims of negligence.