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 your injuries. 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.