In a unanimous decision released today, the Supreme Court of Ohio in Rieger v. Giant Eagle, Inc. agreed with the position of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce in our amicus brief and held that the Eighth District Court of Appeals erred when it found Giant Eagle negligent in a 2012 motorized shopping cart collision.
The collision at issue in this case occurred at a Cuyahoga County Giant Eagle when Barbara Rieger was struck from behind by a motorized shopping cart driven by another customer and injured. Following the accident, Rieger filed a personal injury action against Giant Eagle alleging their negligence caused her injuries. Rieger’s theory rested on the notion that Giant Eagle entrusted a customer with a motorized shopping cart without first inquiring about whether a disability would preclude a customer from operating a motorized cart and that the grocer failed to provide training to customers about how to operate the motorized cart.
Justice Melody Stewart, who was not swayed by the argument of the plaintiff, wrote the opinion for the Court and the other six Justices concurred with it. In her opinion, Justice Stewart highlighted the lack of evidence produced by the plaintiff showing any causation between the alleged breach of duty by Giant Eagle and the injury sustained by Rieger. She stated that the lack of causation evidence should have led the Eighth District Court of Appeals and the trial court to grant Giant Eagle’s motion for a directed verdict, which would have ended the case.
However, neither the trial court nor the Eighth District Court of Appeals granted Giant Eagle’s motion which led to a jury verdict that found Giant Eagle was negligent. The jury also returned an award for Rieger of $121,000 in economic damages and nearly $1.2 million in punitive damages. The punitive damages eventually were lowered to $242,000 by the appellate court in accordance with Ohio law that limits punitive damages to twice the amount of economic damages.
The Ohio Chamber provided the court with an amicus brief because the holding of the trial court and Eighth District Court of Appeals represented a departure from Ohio’s tort laws that would negatively impact Ohio’s business and legal climates.
If the prior holdings were upheld, the number of punitive damage awards levied against Ohio businesses would have increased since the lower court rulings ignored the requirement that punitive damages are only available when the other party acted with ill intent or malice. Furthermore, companies that provide motorized carts to disabled shoppers would have faced new burdensome liability and costly duties owed to their customers because they would have been held strictly liable for all injuries resulting from motorized carts and they would have been required to train and certify that customers are fit to use a motorized cart.
The Rieger case illustrates why the Ohio Chamber fights for a common-sense civil justice system at the Statehouse and throughout Ohio’s judiciary because we know that bad rulings or laws can have a tremendously negative impact on the ability of companies to do business in Ohio.