Ohio Law Slashes Jury Award to Victim of Sexual Assault
Posted in Firm News on August 13, 2013
An Ohio woman whose pastor sexually assaulted her when she was 15 years old has now been deprived of over $3 million. Neither a robbery nor a Ponzi scheme was to blame. The culprits responsible for this “theft” were members of the Ohio General Assembly.
A jury awarded $3.6 million to the woman, who is now 21, for the years of post-traumatic stress she suffered following the assault. However, a judge ruled she could receive no more than $500,000 because of an Ohio law that places limits on “noneconomic damages.”
In Ohio, there is no limit on damages for an economic loss. In this case, the plaintiff recovered $150,000 for future money she would not earn as a result of the assault. However, noneconomic factors, such as this victim’s debilitating PTSD, are capped at $350,000.
Similar laws exist in Ohio which place limits in other types of cases, including medical malpractice claims and lawsuits against political subdivisions. These laws are part of a conservative agenda known as Tort Reform. Groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business and the American Insurance Industry spend millions of dollars each year, lobbying for new legislation that limits the liability of business owners and the companies that insure them.
The pastor, Brian L. Williams, pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual battery in 2008 for forcing the victim to perform sexual acts with him at his church office. He is currently serving his 8-year sentence at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution. The young woman and her father sued Grace Brethren Church of Delaware, Ohio, claiming they knew of previous allegations by other young women.
The attorney for the plaintiff, John Fitch, called the caps on damages and the outcome of the woman’s trial a “moral outrage.” He went on to say, “We don’t need to protect people who cause or contribute to children being raped. And that’s exactly what this statute does.”
Damage caps are arbitrary amounts that do not take into account unique circumstances of each individual. Caps effectively negate a jury’s verdict, which only serves to help big businesses and insurance companies boost their bottom line while hurting our society’s most vulnerable members. Furthermore, these caps are fixed – meaning they will stay the same over the years, without any adjustment for inflation. Each case should be decided on its merits by a jury, not politicians backed by corporate donors.
“Law cuts damages awarded to sex-assault victim” by Laura Arenschield, Columbus Dispatch, August 10, 2013.