I recently came across an old flyer from 1999 as we were cleaning out file drawers in the OIA office. The title of the flyer: “The Ohio Supreme Court’s Gavel Is Crushing Your Business!”
Fallout from an activist court
While it was before my time at OIA, I’ve heard the horrendous stories about an extremely activist Supreme Court, which handed down decisions that created havoc in the insurance industry.
The most egregious decision often cited is Scott Pontzer v. Liberty Mutual.
As ridiculous as it sounds, this decision expanded coverage from an employer’s business auto and commercial umbrella policies to an employee who was killed while driving his wife’s private automobile outside the scope of his employment.
Because of this case and other outrageous decisions handed down by the Court involving UM/UIM that expanded coverage beyond its intent, insurance companies understandably took action.
For example, they suspended the writing of any new commercial auto and umbrella policies in Ohio, raised UM/UIM premiums between 50-100 percent and excluded this coverage at renewal.
This created a real crisis of affordability and availability of UM/UIM for Ohioans in the early 2000s. This took several years to correct through legislative action and an immense effort by the insurance and business community to get new justices elected who would act like judges, not policymakers.
If you are a young agent and didn’t experience this craziness, pay attention.
This really happened… and it’s why OIA has been extremely involved in Ohio Supreme Court races for many years.
Ohio Supreme Court Races Really Do Matter
Fortunately, a lot has changed in the Ohio civil justice system over the past 21 years. The Scott-Pontzer decision was overturned in 2003, along with a plethora of other activist rulings that plagued our judicial system, state economy and insurance marketplace. We bring this up as a reminder to the agent community that the Ohio Supreme Court elections are important to your policyholders, profession and businesses.
In a crowded election year, it is easy for important issues to get lost, and what matters most to your business future could be buried in mayhem of messaging. And, since Supreme Court races in Ohio are non-partisan, nearly 25% of voters simply opt out of this race if they don’t recognize a name.
Those who do actually vote in the race may choose to do so based on name alone – not based on actual knowledge of the candidates. Case in point is former Justice Bob Cupp’s election loss to Justice Bill O’Neill in 2012. Justice O’Neill did not raise or spend a single campaign dollar, but still managed to beat Cupp by four percentage points. In the same year, Cupp’s Republican colleagues with Irish last names, Terrence O’Donnell and Sharon Kennedy, won by 38 and 14 percent.
OIA recommends Justices Sharon Kennedy and Judi French
Justice French poses with OIA past president Perk Reichley
Justice Kennedy Delivers Keynote Address to Independent Insurance Agents Association of Dayton.
When it comes to legal stability for the insurance community, and indeed many other industries crucial to Ohio’s economic vitality, there are no races more important than the Ohio Supreme Court. Agents and their clients are without a doubt best served by justices who leverage the bench’s power with a philosophy of judicial restraint and interpret the law on its merits rather than on the opinions of political interest groups and activists.
Two seats are on the ballot this year – and we are facing an enormous threat. In 2018, two Ohio Supreme Court seats were lost to activist judges. With these losses, the two seats up for election in 2020 on the Ohio Supreme Court are the most important elections we have faced in decades. If we lose these seats, there will be a significant shift in judicial philosophy on the Court. We will be back to an era like Scott-Pontzer when the Court made astonishing decisions — like extending employers’ UM/UIM to employees who got into accidents in their own cars, on their own time.
OIA has spent time evaluating the backgrounds and judicial philosophies of Justices Sharon Kennedy and Judi French and these are the candidates running for seats on the Court that OIA most trusts to stick to interpretation of the law rather than legislating from the bench. Justice Kennedy has served on the Court since 2012. Justice French was appointed to the Court in 2013 and is running for her second six year-term on the Court. Given the importance of these races, Ohio Insurance Agents Political Action Committee has made maximum contributions to support both candidates’ campaign committees.