News Alert: Court Upholds Major Tort Reform

The Ohio Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the four-year statue of repose for filing medical malpractice lawsuits is constitutional. The court’s 6-1 decision in Ruther v. Kaiser overturns a decision by a state appeals court which had previously ruled that the four-year time limit violated the right-to-remedy clause of the Ohio Constitution.

The court’s majority opinion, authored by Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger, says the law was clearly intended to allow medical professionals to work without the constant threat of being accused of malpractice for alleged acts in the distant past.

“Many policy reasons support this legislation. Just as a plaintiff is entitled to a meaningful time and opportunity to pursue a claim, a defendant is entitled to a reasonable time after which he or she can be assured that a defense will not have to be mounted for actions occurring years before,” Lanzinger wrote. “The statute of repose exists to give medical providers certainty with respect to the time within which a claim can be brought and a time after which they can be free from the fear of litigation.”

Justice Yvette McGee Brown wrote a separate concurring opinion saying that while there could be reason to have sympathy for someone in a situation wishing to challenge the four-year time limit, the court is obligated to apply laws as they were intended by the Ohio General Assembly.

“It is unquestionably the province of the legislature to define claims and remedies under Ohio law. In this case, the General Assembly has determined that four years from the date of the alleged negligence is the appropriate timeframe in which to file a medical malpractice claim,” Brown wrote. “We cannot substitute our judgment for that of the legislature... To the extent that the four-year time limit in Ohio’s statute of repose is seen as harsh, the remedy is in the legislature, not the courts,” Brown wrote.

Justice Paul Pfeifer was the lone dissent.

The Ohio State Medical Association (OSMA) wrote an amicus curiae for this case urging the court to overturn the appeals court decision and uphold the statute of repose. The OSMA on Thursday applauded the high court’s decision.

“The court has validated an important tort reform of our civil justice laws in a way that provides greater predictability and stability for the medical profession,” said Tim Maglione, OSMA’s senior director of governmental relations. “It is also a clear signal from the state’s high court that they are no longer interested in legislating from the bench and that they are willing to defer these policy matters to the legislative branch of government.”

Click here to read the ruling.

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