The Ohio Supreme Court Gives Hope for Justice to Child Sex Abuse Survivors
In Ohio, when seeking compensation and restitution through a personal injury lawsuit, there are caps on how much you can receive in damages when it comes to noneconomic losses. If you are seeking compensation for losses that do not include financial or permanent physical damages, you are only allowed to recover up to a certain amount. An exception to damage caps is codified in R.C. §2315.18(B)(3), which mandates that there be no limitation on the amount of compensatory damages for non-economic losses when the injury or loss results in a permanent and substantial physical deformity, loss of limb, or loss of a bodily organ; or when the permanent condition prevents a person from caring for themselves.
The law surrounding damage caps was especially egregious when dealing with victims of sex abuse. Until the Ohio Supreme Court ruling in Brandt v. Pompa, child predators were allowed to hide behind Ohio’s Tort Reform laws. On December 16, 2022, Ohio’s Supreme Court restored access to justice for some rape victims with psychological injuries. This ruling allows certain victims who have suffered permanent psychological damage from childhood sexual abuse or trauma to receive compensation without a cap to how much they may receive. This is just a small step forward for restoring justice to such survivors, but it is an important one.
What was the outcome of Brandt v. Pompa?
Court News Ohio gives us a brief summation of the details of the original criminal case: “Pompa of Brook Park was convicted in May 2007 on 93 sexual abuse-related counts, including 17 counts of rape and 21 counts of gross sexual imposition. Pompa sexually abused Brandt when she was 11 and 12 during sleepovers with his daughter. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.”
At the trial of Brandt v. Pompa, Brandt was awarded $20 million for noneconomic damages for her mental anguish that resulted from sexual abuse and exploitation. Unfortunately, under Revised Code §2315.18, the Court ruled that her award was capped at $250,000 because she had not sustained permanent physical injuries, but psychological ones.
Recently, the Ohio Supreme Court took up this case when Brandt appealed the reduction of her damages. Just on the 16th of December 2022, the Court “ruled that caps on ‘noneconomic damages’ should not be imposed on judgments awarded to child victims ‘who suffer traumatic, extensive, and chronic psychological injury as a result of intentional criminal acts and who sue their abusers for civil damages.’”
While this is a monumental decision, the battle to fight tort reform and damage caps must continue. This decision only applies to perpetrators and does not impact claims against the entities, such as employers and schools, that negligently fail to protect children from explanation. Further changes is needed to avoid the revictimization for sexual assault victims by Ohio’s archaic laws.
What is the difference between economic and noneconomic losses?
Using the Revised Code from earlier, economic loss includes:
- All wages, salaries, or other compensation lost as a result of an injury or loss to person or property that is a subject of a tort action;
- All expenditures for medical care or treatment, rehabilitation services, or other care, treatment, services, products, or accommodations as a result of an injury or loss to person or property that is a subject of a tort action;
- Any other expenditures incurred as a result of an injury or loss to person or property that is a subject of a tort action, other than attorney’s fees incurred in connection with that action.
Noneconomic loss covers more aspects of a person’s life that suffer due to the actions of the defendant which do not have a direct monetary value. These include (but are not limited to): “pain and suffering, loss of society, consortium, companionship, care, assistance, attention, protection, advice, guidance, counsel, instruction, training, or education, disfigurement, mental anguish, and any other intangible loss.”
The price or cost of these things are considered subjective, and dissenters of the change to the law have stated that to be a good reason why those caps were in place to begin with. Brandt’s psychological damages from her sexual assault as a child fall under noneconomic loss, but that there is some minimum financial award amount that should cover all assaults and “mental anguish” is problematic and does not serve those victims appropriately.
What do the dissenters have to say?
Surprisingly enough to us, and perhaps to everyone, the law was only passed by a vote of 4-5, meaning there were four Ohio Supreme Court members who did not think that Brandt should have been awarded the $20 million, but only the capped amount of $250,000. News website Cleveland.com reports that three members jointly dissented: “However, as members of the third branch of government, we must ‘temper our empathy’ and resolve legal matters within the confines of the law,” they wrote, referring to an older court decision. Because the majority opinion fails to do so, we must respectfully dissent.”
They wrote that the law already makes an exception for noneconomic damages, “which includes losing the use of a limb, permanent and substantial physical deformity and an injury that permanently prevents a person from being able to independently care for themselves.” If there were noneconomic losses outside of these exceptions, the award for those damages should be capped, the dissenting members detailed.
“Tempering our empathy” is not what we should do when it comes to such psychological damages that a victim must suffer in cases like these. We are human, and to claim otherwise is a fallacy. The laws must be just and impartial, yes, but we must properly weigh the psychological damages, and as such, there should be no cap for that.
If you have suffered psychological or emotional damage as a consequence of childhood sexual abuse, contact Soroka & Associates, LLC. We are here to help you get the restitution and the justice that you deserve. To schedule a consultation, call us or use our contact page. We aggressively serve the people of Columbus, Ohio.