Why Should Independent Agents Care About Ohio Supreme Court Elections?

The Ohio Supreme Court is comprised of seven Justices who serve as the final arbiters of legal questions concerning the constitutionality and validity of our state laws, rules, and legal system. As the third branch of government, the Court’s decisions play a critical role in determining whether Ohio consumers, businesses, and independent agents will have a stable, predictable, and competitive insurance marketplace to do business.  

Over the past 30 years, Ohio’s Supreme Court has been like a rollercoaster ride at the state fair. At times, chaotic, unpredictable, and unstable, and other times it has been smooth, predictable, and stable. In this article, we will explore the past, present, and future of the Ohio Supreme Court and why independent agents should care about the upcoming November election.  

The Past 

  • During the 1990s, the Ohio Supreme Court was considered an activist court, one that “legislated from the bench.” At that time, four of the seven justices consistently voted to overturn legislative enacted pro-business policy decisions and tort reforms. 
  • In 1999, the Court issued the Scott-Pontzer uninsured/underinsured motorists (UM/UIM) issues were among the anti-business decisions rendered by that Court. Scott-Pontzer held that injured parties in motor vehicle accidents could seek UM/UIM coverage under their employer’s automobile liability policies even though the injured parties were off work and not driving a company vehicle. This decision resulted in insurers reserving for large unknown, unexpected losses, drastically raising rates, freezing new business, and pulling out of the state. Unlike today’s hard market, this was a legal and judicially created hard market.  
  • In the early 2000s, the greater business community came together to change the philosophical complexion of the Supreme Court. In the 2002 election, the philosophical view of the Supreme Court switched from a majority of “activists” to “strict constructionists/restraint” and not long after that election result, decisions like Westfield vs. Galatis were issued overturning Scott-Pontzer and starting the long process of undoing years of an activist and Super Legislature bench. 

The Present 

  • The Supreme Court is now comprised of a majority of justices that adhere to a philosophy of judicial restraint, focusing their legal opinions on the letter of the law and contract as written pared with the constitutionality of Ohio’s laws and deferring policy matters to the legislature. 
  • As a result, Ohio has had one of the most competitive, stable, and affordable insurance marketplaces in the country for the past 20 years.  
  • Ohio homeowners’ premiums ranked ninth in homeowners’ premiums and auto premiums ranked eleventh lowest in the country according to recent reports from the Ohio Department of Insurance and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.  
  • Ohioans are paying a combined $500 less for their auto and homeowners insurance compared to the national average. The current hard market is threatening the stability of rates for insurance consumers. The last thing we need is to add a self-manufactured crisis from an activist judiciary to create uncertainty and additional rate increases.  

The Future 

  • With three of the seven Justices up for election this November, the philosophical balance of the Supreme Court is once again in jeopardy. Will Ohio continue to enjoy stability and predictability in our laws or revert back to the late 1990s when an activist bench overturns legislative policy decisions for their own viewpoint?
  • OIAPAC has reviewed the legal decisions and judicial philosophy of the candidates seeking election in November and we recommend independent agents support – Justice Joe Deters, Judge Megan Shanahan, and Judge Dan Hawkins.  
  • Let’s avoid Ohio becoming like Illinois, Florida, California, New York, and other states where the trial lawyers have created unpredictable legal environments, activist courts, and higher insurance premiums. 

To maintain Ohio’s competitive business and insurance climate, we encourage you to learn more about the Ohio Supreme Court races this fall at www.ohioinsuranceagents.com 

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