Beatty v. Akron City Hospital, 80-1194

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Ohio
Citation424 N.E.2d 586,67 Ohio St.2d 483
Docket NumberNo. 80-1194,80-1194
Parties, 21 O.O.3d 302 BEATTY et al., Appellants, v. AKRON CITY HOSPITAL et al., Appellees.
Decision Date12 August 1981

Syllabus by the Court

1. R.C. 2711.21 is compatible with the right to a fair and impartial jury trial as guaranteed by Section 5, Article I of the Ohio Constitution.

2. R.C. 2711.21 is rationally related to a legitimate governmental interest, and does not conflict with the right of equal protection as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and by Section 2, Article I of the Ohio Constitution.

This cause presents for review and determination by this court the question of whether R.C. 2711.21(C), a section of the Ohio Medical Malpractice Act, is constitutional.

The facts, in brief, giving rise to this appeal are that on March 14, 1978, the appellants, Sandra and Edward Beatty, filed an amended complaint against the appellees, Dr. Richard C. Walker and Akron City Hospital, alleging that appellees had performed a tubal ligation on Sandra Beatty without her consent. The appellees answered and the matter was set for arbitration hearing pursuant to R.C. 2711.21. The arbitration panel consisted of three lawyers, one appointed by each party, and one by the court. After a hearing, the arbitrators determined that appellants had knowingly and voluntarily consented to the tubular ligation procedure and, accordingly, the arbitrators entered a finding in favor of the appellees.

Seeking a trial de novo, appellants filed a second amended complaint on January 22, 1979, wherein they demanded a jury trial. The appellees, pursuant to R.C. 2711.21(C), moved that the finding of the arbitrators be placed into evidence at trial. The appellants opposed the motion, asserting that R.C. 2711.21 was unconstitutional. The trial court overruled appellants' contention and directed that the arbitrators' decision be admitted in evidence.

On October 25, 1979, the trial commenced and, over appellants' objection, the arbitrators' finding was received into evidence. The jury rendered verdicts for the appellees.

The appellants appealed to the Court of Appeals. In that appeal, the appellants contended that: (1) R.C. 2711.21 violates the appellants' right to a civil jury trial as guaranteed by the Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution and Section 5, Article I of the Ohio Constitution; and (2) R.C. 2711.21 violates the constitutional guarantees of equal protection by treating medical claims in a judicially different manner (than other tort claims), there being no state interest sufficiently compelling to justify such different treatment.

The Court of Appeals held that the challenged section is constitutional and affirmed the judgment of the trial court.

This cause is now before the court pursuant to allowance of a motion to certify the record.

Segedy & Umbaugh and David G. Umbaugh, Akron, for appellants.

Roetzel & Andress, K. Richard Aughenbaugh and Richard R. Strong, Akron, for appellees.

HOLMES, Justice.


R.C. 2711.21 provides for the establishment of an arbitration board to hear medical claims. 1 The arbitration board is to consist of three arbitrators, one person designated by the plaintiff, or plaintiffs, one person designated by the defendant, or defendants, and one person designated by the court. The person designated by the court shall serve as chairman. Under the statute, any "medical claim" as defined in R.C. 2305.11(D)(3) shall mandatorily be submitted to the arbitration board.

The arbitration proceedings shall, according to subsection (B) of this statute, be conducted in accordance with R.C. 2711.06 to 2711.16 insofar as they are applicable.

R.C. 2711.21(C), the section particularly questioned here, provides for the submission of the arbitrators' report as evidence in a jury trial. Accordingly, it is provided in this subsection that the decision of the arbitration board is not binding and, if not accepted by all parties, the pleadings are amended to show both the fact that the controversy was submitted to arbitration, and the board's decision. The decision of the board and any written dissenting opinion is admissible in evidence at trial upon the offer of any party if the court conducts a review of the arbitration decision and determines that the board's finding is not clearly erroneous and is in accordance with applicable law, and that the proceedings were fairly conducted and were without prejudice to either party. A party who has not offered the decision in evidence may subpoena the members of the board for cross-examination at trial.

The section further provides that any person may enter into an agreement to arbitrate a controversy concerning a medical claim or to be bound by the decision of the arbitrators.

In this appeal, the appellants basically present the same propositions of law as were embodied within their assignments of error below, i. e., that R.C. 2711.21 violates the right to trial by jury as guaranteed by Section 5, Article I of the Ohio Constitution and Civ.R. 38(A), by delegating the jury's fact-finding role to a panel of arbitrators. Also, that this section violates the constitutional guarantee of equal protection by treating medical claims in a judicially different manner, there being no state interest sufficiently compelling to justify such different treatment.

In reviewing a great deal of reported case law and commentary throughout the United States revolving about the issues of the constitutionality of enactments providing for the arbitration of malpractice claims, it would appear that the Supreme Court of this state is among the few that have not had the opportunity to decisionally address these questions.

There having been a seeming plethora of material written on these constitutional issues, our commentary shall not be extensive. We affirm the Court of Appeals, and hold that R.C. 2711.21 is constitutional.

Appellants claim that R.C. 2711.21 violates a medical claimant's constitutional right to a jury trial by virtue of the fact that any medical claim may mandatorily be submitted to an arbitration panel, and the board's decision admitted in evidence at trial. Appellants argue that the jury, thus being presented with the board's finding, "may well choose to rely on that decision, rather than its own."

We are not persuaded by appellants' argument in this regard. The scheme of the statute does not present the issues to the jury in a manner by which they would be persuaded or influenced by one side or the other in the litigation. First, the statute provides fairly and reasonably that each party select a member of the arbitration board, and the third is to be appointed by the court. The section does not mandate, nor prohibit, any certain background or expertise of the individual members. If the parties, or the judge, wish to appoint a professional member, such as a doctor, an attorney, an engineer etc., depending upon necessity or desire, the appointing party may accordingly do so.

Further, analyzing the reasonableness of the statutory scheme here, it should be noted that the arbitrators' decision, if admitted at trial at all, is just one facet of an adversarial proceeding where each party may, as in any other proceeding, introduce any admissible evidence by way of witnesses' testimony and exhibits.

Additionally, the statute provides for a number of safeguards to the litigants in the submission of the arbitrators' decision to the jury. Under the section, the board's decision is admissible only if the trial court concludes that the hearing and decision are free from prejudice to either party. Additionally, the statute specifically affords the non-offering party the right to subpoena and cross-examine any of the arbitrators during the trial. No similar right is provided the offering party.

The main thrust of the appellants' argument relating to the claimed denial of free and untrammeled jury consideration of the issues is that the jury would impute unwarranted importance to the arbitration decision. We conclude that the jury would not be so inclined. We believe that the jury will continue to listen to, and consider, the testimony of all the witnesses, assess the demeanor and credibility of these witnesses, personally evaluate all the evidence adduced, and not give undue regard to the report or decision of the arbitrators which is, by this section of law, made just one part of all the evidence that may be adduced.

In the latter regard, the Supreme Court of Nebraska, in Prendergast v. Nelson (1977), 199 Neb. 97, 256 N.W.2d 657, at 109, in holding that Nebraska's Hospital-Medical Liability Act's provision for panel review and the admissibility of the panel's report were constitutional, stated:

"Defendant contends the medical review panel interferes with the constitutional right to trial by jury because the report which may be introduced in evidence, if adverse to the claimant, adversely affects his ability to obtain a jury verdict. The converse would then also be true. If the report was adverse to the medical care provider, it would promote the claimant's action. It is a two-way street which equally affects the parties on both sides. We do not accept defendant's implication that a jury could not or would not evaluate a medical review panel's recommendation with objectivity, or follow the trial court's instructions regarding the weight to be given it. Our present experience with expert witnesses certainly indicates otherwise."

Also in point on the claim that submitting the arbitration board's decision as an element of evidence would be an undue influence on the jury, the court, in the early case of Halpern v. Gozan (1976), 85 Misc.2d 753, 759, 381 N.Y.Supp.2d 744, stated:

"But one asks: Despite all of the opportunities for examination and exploration of the recommendation, can it be said realistically that a jury could render a verdict inconsistent with...

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