Author: Melissa Schuett, Associate Member, University of Cincinnati Law Review
Since the infamous “McDonald’s hot coffee” case in 1994, tort reform legislation has led to the imposition of caps on damages in civil actions in many states across the country, including Ohio. These caps require judges to disregard any amount a jury awards that is over the statutorily imposed limit. The purpose of this oversight is to avoid frivolous lawsuits and emotionally-driven plaintiff verdicts. But the question remains whether this distrust of a jury’s ability to separate fact from emotion is inherently contradictory to state statutes that require a jury to decide whether to sentence a criminal defendant to death. Assuming the validity of tort reform, Ohio’s implementation of hard damage caps in civil cases creates an inconsistency with the trust afforded juries in criminal proceedings. This statutory contradiction in trust should be resolved by affording the same level of trust to Ohio civil juries as Ohio does to criminal juries; the General Assembly’s placement of stronger restraints on civil juries is contrary to the principals set forth in the Sixth Amendment, which places the greatest protection of a defendant in the purview of the jury.