31 N.E.3d 724 (Ohio Comm. 2014), CV-11-760490, Roginski v. Shelly Co.

Docket Nº:CV-11-760490
Citation:31 N.E.3d 724
Opinion Judge:MICHAEL E. JACKSON, JUDGE.
Party Name:LYNETTE A. ROGINSKI, et al., Plaintiffs, v. THE SHELLY CO., et al., Defendants
Case Date:August 21, 2014
Court:Court of Common Pleas of Ohio
 
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31 N.E.3d 724 (Ohio Comm. 2014)

LYNETTE A. ROGINSKI, et al., Plaintiffs,

v.

THE SHELLY CO., et al., Defendants

No. CV-11-760490

Court of Common Pleas of Ohio, Cuyahoga

August 21, 2014

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 726

JOURNAL ENTRY

MICHAEL E. JACKSON, JUDGE.

81 DISP JURY TRIAL - FINAL

FINAL JUDGMENT ENTRY AND OPINION REGARDING: (1) THE APPLICATION A ND CONSTITUTIONALITY OF THE STATUTORY PUNITIVE DAMAGE CAP; A ND (2) JURY APPORTIONMENT OF THE VERDICT IS SIGNED AND ORDERED RECORDED. JUDGMENT ENTRY AND OPINION ATTACHED. OSJ. FINAL.

A. FINAL JUDGMENT IS RENDERED IN FAVOR OF PLAINTIFF LYNETTE ROGINSKI AS REPRESENTATIVE OF THE WRONGFUL DEATH BENEFICIARIES OF RANDY ROGINSKI A ND AGAINST THE SHELLY COMPANY FOR COMPENSATORY DAMAGES IN THE AMOUNT OF $12,100,000, COMPRISED OF NON-ECONOMIC DAMAGES IN THE AMOUNT OF $10,200,000 A ND ECONOMIC DAMAGES IN THE AMOUNT OF $1,900,000.

B. FINAL JUDGMENT IS RENDERED IN FAVOR OF PLAINTIFF LYNETTE ROGINSKI AS ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF RANDY ROGINSKI AND AGAINST THE SHELLY COMPANY IN THE AMOUNT OF $23.75, AS ECONOMIC DAMAGES FOR PROPERTY LOSS.

C. FINAL JUDGMENT IS RENDERED IN FAVOR OF THE PLAINTIFF LYNETTE ROGINSKI AS ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF RANDY ROGINSKI AND AGAINST THE SHELLY COMPANY IN THE AMOUNT OF $20,000,000 FOR PUNITIVE DAMAGES.

COSTS TO DEFENDANT THE SHELLY COMPANY.

COURT COST ASSESSED AS DIRECTED.

/s/ OSJ

Judge Signature

8/21/14

Date

FINAL JUDGMENT ENTRY AND OPINION REGARDING: (1) THE APPLICATION AND CONSTITUTIONALITY OF THE STATUTORY PUNITIVE DAMAGE CAP; AND (2) JURY APPORTIONMENT OF THE VERDICT

I. INTRODUCTION

This case was filed as a result of the death of Randy Roginski (" R. Roginski" or

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" decedent" ). R. Roginski was working as an inspector for the Ohio Department of Transportation (" ODOT" ) concerning a repaving project on Interstate 271 when he was killed on July 27, 2010. The Shelly Company (" Defendant" or " Shelly" )1 was the general contractor for this project.

Plaintiff Lynette Roginski, as Representative of the Wrongful Death Beneficiaries of Randy Roginski (" Beneficiaries" ), and Plaintiff Lynette Roginski, as Administrator of the Estate of Randy Roginski, (" Estate" ) (collectively, " Plaintiffs" ), sued Shelly based on wrongful death and survivorship claims with a demand for punitive damages. After two weeks of trial, a jury trial rendered a unanimous verdict on April 2, 2014 in favor of the Plaintiffs based on a general verdict and the jury's responses to written interrogatories. The jury decided the Defendant knew: (1) that a significant risk of injury was foreseeable and that a dangerous situation existed because of the manner in which this construction site was setup at this location on Interstate 271; and (2) that due to this dangerous situation, workers performing their duties at this site, including the duties performed by R. Roginski, were exposed to a foreseeable risk of harm as drivers maneuvered their vehicles through this site at a high rate of speed. One driver, Anthony Jones2 (" Jones), struck and instantly killed R. Roginski.

For the Beneficiaries, the jury awarded on the wrongful death claim $19,000,000, comprised of $17,000,000 in non-economic damages and $2,000,000 in economic damages. For the Estate, the jury awarded on the survivorship claim $25 in economic damages and $0 in non-economic damages. This concluded Phase 1 of this trial.

Phase 2 then commenced regarding the issue of punitive damages asserted against Shelly in Count 2 of Plaintiffs' complaint. On April 3, 2014, the jury rendered a $20,000,000 punitive damages award in a general verdict without designating whether the amount applied to either claim.3 In its April 7, 2014 Journal Entry, the Court stated the particulars of the jury's verdict, but did not reduce it to a Final Judgment Entry because of pending issues, the resolution of which are now discussed in this Final Judgment Entry, issued pursuant to Civil Rule 38.

The Court has considered the arguments of counsel through extensive briefing that concluded on May 25, 2014 after the oral hearing on April 10, 2014 regarding the applicable law on the issues of: (1) jury apportionment of liability with respect to dismissed defendant Anthony Jones4 (" Jones" ) and the decedent, R. Roginski, and a request to adjust the amount of the verdict; (2) the relationship between punitive damages and the distinct claims of wrongful death and survivorship; (3) the proper application of the statutory formula in R.C. 2315.21(D)(2)(a) to calculate the jury's punitive damage award, including whether damages awarded on the claims for both the wrongful death and survivorship can combined and considered to be " compensatory damages awarded to the

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plaintiff' under this statute to calculate punitive damages, and (4) constitutionality of this statutory formula to calculate punitive damages as applied to the verdict in this case.

II. JUDGMENT ENTRY

This Final Judgment Entry differs from the jury award for the reasons summarized in this section and further explained in detail in the remaining sections of this Final Judgment Entry and Opinion. The Court renders this Final Judgment Entry pursuant to Civil Rule 38, as follows:

A. Final Judgment is rendered in favor of Plaintiff Lynette Roginski as Representative of the Wrongful Death Beneficiaries of Randy Roginski and against The Shelly Company for compensatory damages in the amount of $12,100,000, comprised of non-economic damages in the amount of $10,200,000 and economic damages in the amount of $1,900,000.

The jury awarded a total of $19,000,000 for economic and noneconomic damages. This jury amount was reduced by a total of 40% to account for the comparative negligence of dismissed defendant Jones at 35% and R. Roginski at 5%. This reduction was applied to the economic and noneconomic amounts. B. Final Judgment is rendered in favor of Plaintiff Lynette Roginski as Administrator of the Estate of Randy Roginski and against The Shelly Company in the amount of $23.75, as economic damages for property loss. The jury awarded the Estate a total of $25 for his clothing damage when he died instantly because of Defendant's negligence; this amount was reduced to $23.75 for the comparative negligence of R. Roginski at 5%. C. Final Judgment is rendered in favor of the Plaintiff Lynette Roginski as Administrator of the Estate of Randy Roginski and against The Shelly Company in the amount of $20,000,000 for punitive damages. This is the amount awarded by the jury. However, after the jury rendered its award, the Court was required by law, as stated in R.C. 2315.21(D)(2)(a), to apply the statutory formula of two times the amount of " compensatory damages" arising out of a " tort action" to determine the legally enforceable amount of punitive damages to be awarded. The Court has interpreted this statute to mean that a " tort action" applies only to the survivorship claim, which was reduced to $23.75 and then doubled by the statutory formula to $47.50. This is the legally permitted amount of punitive damages to be awarded to the Estate for Defendant's malicious conduct based on this statute. Plaintiffs challenged this result on many counts, including that this result was unconstitutional. The Court has determined that the punitive damage award of $47.50 for Defendant's malicious conduct that caused the instantaneous death of R. Roginski does not " punish [the] reprehensible conduct" of the Defendant and does not " deter its future occurrence" by the Defendant, both of which are the purposes of punitive damages. Also, this statute has no " real and substantial relation to the general welfare of the public" when this formula produces an unseemly and grossly inadequate result based on Defendant's malicious conduct. This statutorily imposed result under R.C. 2315.21 does not make " certain that Ohio has a fair, predictable system of civil justice that preserves the rights of those who have been harmed by negligent behavior" as required by the Ohio Supreme Court in Arbino v. Johnson & Johnson, 116 Ohio St.3d 468, 2007 Ohio 6948, 880 N.E.2d 420 (2007). Page 729

This statutory system is neither " fair" nor does it " preserve the rights of those who have been harmed by [negligence]."

When a statute that is designed to protect the constitutional rights of malicious tortfeasors from paying what the General Assembly considers to be too much money for their egregious conduct also produces a result that is designed to pay beneficiaries of the victim's Estate the paltry sum of $43.75 for killing R. Roginski instantaneously, then the Estate's (and its recipients') constitutional rights of due process and equal protection have not been served or protected. The General Assembly has made protecting a malicious tortfeasor superior to the rights of the estate of a decedent who has been killed instantly by such malicious conduct. This result is not in the interest of the general public. In all cases like this one, no family member or other beneficiary of the decedent's estate should ever be told that their constitutional rights to due process of law have not been violated when a statutorily imposed formula awards the paltry amount of $47.50 - for double the value of a decedent's clothing - resulting from a defendant's malicious conduct that caused a decedent's instantaneous death. Likewise, no corporate or individual defendant determined by a jury to have engaged in malicious conduct and thereby subjected to an award of punitive damages should ever feel relief, financial or otherwise, when discovering that the application of R. C. 2315.21 imposes for that malicious conduct the paltry sum of $47.50. This amount is...

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