In November, Christine Lucarell won one of the largest cash verdicts ever handed down in Mahoning County in her lawsuit against former employer Nationwide Insurance, but now the company is asking that the dollar amount be reduced citing statutory limitations.
Lucarell sued the insurance giant in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, alleging Nationwide enrolled her in an agency executive program, then withheld financing from her agency and made her working conditions so intolerable she was forced to quit.
The eight-member, all-male jury spent two weeks listening to evidence in the case before returning a finding in Lucarell’s favor. The jury awarded compensatory damages of $5.7 million in lost profits, $1 million in emotional damages, and $100,000 for retaliation.
The award for punitive damages was $36 million.
Lucarell had been seeking $5 million in compensatory damages and an undetermined amount in punitive damages.
The case was heard before visiting Judge Thomas J. Pokorny.
Attorney Quinton Lindsmith, representing Nationwide, has filed a list of motions with the court since the jury verdict was reached. He told the court this week that the amount awarded to Lucarell should be reduced under the Ohio tort- reform statutes.
Lindsmith cited several past cases where the Ohio Supreme Court has found lawsuits originating in the workplace to fall under tort law and thus under the award caps of tort reform.
Lindsmith argued that the compensatory award in the case should be capped at no more than $350,000. The total award, he said, should be no more than $10 million.
Attorneys Matthew Reis and Caryn Groedel, representing Lucarell, disagreed.
Reis told the court that the matter does not fall under the tort-reform statutes because the matter is work-related. The awards, he said, should be kept at the amounts awarded by the jury.
“The Ohio General Assembly did not even hint that employment claims should be included in the statute,” he said. “It is our position that the tort-reform statutes do not apply to the employment claims in this case.”
Reis said the cases used by Lindsmith to make his point before the court are no longer “good law” in that they have either been reversed or fall under older versions of tort-reform law.
There also was discussion on whether the verdict should be stayed until the judge has ruled on all the motions filed by Nationwide and if the insurance company should be made to hold a bond to insure payment of the awarded amount after the court issues have been ironed out.
Judge Pokorny said he will have a decision on the matters argued before the court this week in a couple of days. The court will hear oral arguments on other motions filed by the insurance company Feb. 19.