Judge Forchione is a living, breathing example of the qualities discussed on page 1. Judge Forchione sits on the common pleas bench in Stark County, and so he hears the same type of cases as would Pat Hart if elected. He recently issued a ruling that plainly and forcefully rejects the current status quo in which plaintiffs get whipsawed by insurance companies. In general terms what is at stake is the so-called collateral source rule, which used to serve to prevent the wrongdoer (for example, a drunk driver) from benefitting from the plaintiff’s efforts to be a responsible citizen and be insured. The most common example is a wrongdoer seeking to introduce a plaintiff’s health insurance so that he can reduce the verdict. Under recent Ohio Supreme Court rulings, the existence of health insurance reductions are now going to the jury in trials across Ohio, but Plaintiffs are still strictly forbidden from ever mentioning to the jury that the wrongdoer has insurance.
Judge Forchione, almost alone among his peers, in effect said “Enough”. The case is Jenkins, et al. vs. Disabato, Stark County Common Pleas Case No. 2011 CV 727. Essentially what the Allstates and State Farms of the world want to do is expose the jury to health insurance reductions (which ultimately will lower the verdict) but continue to cry foul if any evidence of their own existence is mentioned to the jury (as they fear this would raise the verdict). The judge’s opinion states:
Because the introduction of any difference between amounts charged and amounts billed [for medical treatment] will deprive the Plaintiffs of the protection of the collateral source rule, the only two fair options are that all insurance be discussed with the jury, or that no insurance be discussed with the jury. (Emphasis added.)
It would have been far easier for Judge Forchione to punt on this issue, as all too many trial courts have. Instead, he took the issue head on. The decision will likely be taken up on appeal at which point several very well funded special interests will begin to weigh in. The judge certainly understood that going in, but followed his convictions, called a spade a spade, and rendered his decision.