Today, the Ohio Supreme Court took a small step toward restoring justice for child sex abuse victims. In the case of Brandt v. Pompa, it found Ohio’s limitation on compensation in certain circumstances to be unconstitutional. At trial, the jury in the case awarded the victim $20,000,000 for her mental anguish resulting from years of sexual exploitation by the father of her childhood friend. The jury heard abundant evidence of the victim’s lifetime of torment in evaluating fair and reasonable compensation. But because of Ohio’s “damages caps,” the trial judge was required to reduce the amount of compensation to $250,000.
In overturning that reduction, the Ohio Supreme Court concluded that damages caps do not apply for child victims of intentional criminal conduct in claims against an abuser who has been found guilty of the intentional criminal acts. In doing so, the Court concluded that the statutory caps focus on physical injuries was unreasonable and did not properly account for the traumatic, extensive, and chronic psychological trauma experienced by Brandt.
In cases like this, which are all too frequent, the child is brutally victimized, and is often scarred for life. They suffer effects of depression, humiliation, anger, lack of self-esteem, and these effects cause problems in personal relationships, education and employment, and often lead to severe mental health conditions including suicidal ideations. When a victim musters the strength and courage to face their abuser in court, the victim is revictimized by Ohio’s archaic laws.
While today’s decision is small progress, much more needs to be done. The Ohio legislature must act to vacate “damages caps” for child sexual abuse victims in all circumstances. Let the jury which hears the evidence set the amount of compensation, not the ivory tower legislature. After all, citizens have a Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial. The legislature should also extend the statute of limitations for claims arising out of child sex abuse, which currently requires a victim to bring a lawsuit before they turn 30 years old. Research shows that most child sex abuse victims are still unable to pursue their legal remedies at that age.
At Rittgers Rittgers & Nakajima , we stand ready, along with many other capable advocates and organizations, to help the courts and legislature understand how to protect Ohio’s children and help them heal from these crimes.