On June 6, 2007, the Ohio Supreme Court held that a journalized jury verdict is not a final appealable order pursuant to Ohio Revised Code Section 2525.05.02 when a motion for prejudgment interest is pending. In Miller v. First International Fidelity & Trust Building Ltd., 2007-Ohio-2457, the plaintiff filed a motion for prejudgment interest after a jury found liability and awarded damages against the defendant. The defendant appealed the judgment.
Ohio Revised Code Section 2505.02(B)(1) provides that an order is a final appealable order if it “in effect determines the action and prevents a judgment.” The Ohio Supreme Court by a vote of 4-3 determined that to meet this definition, the order “must dispose of the whole merits of the cause or some separate and distinct branch thereof” and “leave nothing for the determination of the court.” In the majority decision written by Justice Pfeifer, the Court explained that a jury verdict followed by a pending motion for prejudgment interest is similar to an order determining liability but deferring issues of damages, which generally is not considered a final appealable order. Like a deferred determination of damages, the motion for prejudgment interest remained to be decided after the jury verdict was entered. Thus, the judgment entry failed to dispose of the whole merits of the cause and left an issue for the trial court to determine.
Addressing issues of concern relating to disclosure of privileged information, the Court acknowledged that many privileged matters are discoverable in a proceeding to recover prejudgment interest because the focus of the proceeding is whether there was a good faith effort to settle the case. In response to this concern that discovery of such matters could prejudice an appellant’s appeal, the Court emphasized that matters that go directly to the theory of the defense would remain privileged. Therefore, discovery of otherwise privileged matters in a prejudgment interest proceeding would not prejudice parties during the appellate process.
For insurers, the Miller holding will have a significant impact, as a motion for prejudgment interest is filed in practically every tort action. Prior to this decision, the appellate district courts have been split on whether a case can proceed on appeal before resolution of the prejudgment interest motion.
Miller v. First International Fidelity & Trust Building, Ltd., 2007-Ohio-2457.