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An Ohio state legislator took an unusual approach to amending a tort reform bill in August: He asked judges what they thought. Rather than deliberate behind closed doors with the House Judiciary Committee, which he chairs, Representative Scott Oelslager, R-Plain Township, sent surveys out to common pleas judges seeking their thoughts on tort reform. His results are not what the pro-”tort reform” lobbyists like to hear. Of the 234 judges surveyed, 94 responded. Their answer was overwhelming-nearly all indicated that reform is unnecessary. “Based on the results of the survey . . . there’s obviously no systemic runaway juries,” Oelslager said. “We want to be sure of what is really happening in the courts if we’re going to be analyzing and changing the legal rights of the people of Ohio.” But the survey has its critics. A spokeswoman for the American Tort Reform Association, Gretchen Schaefer, called the survey “pretty limited in its scope. It doesn’t even cover comprehensive reform like class action or product liability.” From the bench The Ohio House Judiciary Committee has held 14 hearings to discuss possible changes to Senate Bill 80, introduced by state Senator Steve Stivers, R-Columbus, in May 2003. Oelslager said that the bill is a “pretty overwhelming tort reform,” and that “the survey will have a great weight” in crafting changes. However, he said he is not sure what changes will be made. The bill would put caps on noneconomic damages and on catastrophic and noncatastrophic injuries, and limit punitive damages and attorney fees. According to the results of the survey, 99% of the judges responded that, in their courtroom, jury awards were disproportionately high only zero to 10% of the time. Seventy-seven percent replied that there is no need for legislation capping punitive damages awards and 73% said that the current rules to limit frivolous lawsuits are sufficient. Respondents gave their general impressions of jury awards of noneconomic damages as, among other things, “very conservative” and “extremely frugal.” “It bears what we’ve been saying all along,” said Pete Weinberger, chairman of the Ohio Academy of Trial Lawyers Legislative Committee. “The claim that we have runaway jury verdicts is simply not true,” he said.

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