Ohio Tort Reform Decreases Award in Civil Lawsuit Against Nationwide Insurance

An Ohio Judge decreases a $42.8 damages award against Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., of Columbus, Ohio citing 2005 Ohio Tort Reform Legislation that limits emotional and punitive damages. Nationwide plans to appeal while other former Nationwide agents plan to file a class action lawsuit.

A lawsuit filed in 2010 alleges that plaintiff Christine Lucarell was one of nearly 400 insurance agents who participated in a three-year Nationwide Insurance executive program, completion of which the company claimed would allow agents to earn over $200,000 in annual commissions. However, the complaint says that the insurance company implemented “unsustainable monthly production quotas to withhold financing from the agencies and then terminating them once the agents had generated a profitable book of business.”

According to the Columbus Dispatch, Nationwide transferred the books, and the $1.8 million business created by Lucarell to a company call center, and kept the commissions that would have gone to her. This activity caused Lucarell to lose everything including her home, car, and credit, court documents say.

The lawsuit alleged constructive discharge and retaliation, fraudulent misrepresentation, breach of contract, and invasion of privacy. The plaintiff accused Nationwide of using predatory tactics to lure her into working for the company as an agent, only to set her up for failure. The plaintiff filed the lawsuit against Nationwide in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court and it was argued in front of an eight panel all male jury for two weeks.

Ohio Tort Reform Damage Caps Limit Emotional and Punitive Damage Awards

Prior to deliberations, Judge Thomas J. Pokorny explained to the jurors that punitive damages are awarded as a punishment for Nationwide’s actions and to discourage the company from engaging in those same activities in the future. Finding in favor of Lucarell, the jury awarded punitive damages in amounts of $20 million for constructive discharge, $11 million for retaliation, and $5 million for misappropriation of her name. The jury then awarded compensatory damages in the amounts of $5.7 million in lost profits, $100,000 for retaliation, and $1 million for emotional damages.

However, Judge Pokorny found that under Ohio tort reform, the state has limited the amount of money that can be awarded for emotional and punitive damages in tort actions. Judge Pokony then reduced the punitive retaliation award to $800,000 and non-economic damages for retaliation from $400,000 to $300,000.

According to The Vindicator, a Nationwide public-relations consultant told the paper that the company strongly disagrees with the ruling and is “asking the judge to reverse the verdict in out favor, or alternatively, to grant us a new trial.” However, the Columbus Dispatch revealed that at least seven other agents are allegedly preparing to file a class action lawsuit claiming they were victim to the same predatory and fraudulent practices of the insurance company.

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