Columbus lawyer John K. Fitch calls it “a horrific injustice for children who are raped or otherwise sexually abused.”
If victims and their parents turn to court seeking pain-and-suffering damages from their assaulants, and those who enabled them, they are limited by Ohio law to the recovery of $250,000.
“A child could be raped 50 times and limited to $5,000 per rape under Ohio law. It’s outrageous,” >>> Fitch says.
He is asking the Ohio Supreme Court to rule that state law unconstitutionally deprives childhood sexual-abuse victims of adequate compensation for mental trauma that could last a lifetime.
His appeal involves a case last year in which a Delaware County jury awarded $3.5 million in ”non-economic” damages to a woman who was 15 years old when she was raped by her pastor at Delaware Grace Brethren Church in Sunbury.
The judge, following Ohio law, reduced pain-and-suffering damages against the church to $35o,000, a figure that could yet fall to $250,000. State law does not cap damages for economic loss and physical injury.
Fitch’s appeal asserts that it is “unreasonable and arbitrary’ to cap non-economic damages for young sex-abuse victims when they suffer mental, rather than physical, harm and are likely to have little economic losses stemming from jobs.
“Ohio law severely restricts their civil rights while it protects the rights of people found responsible for raping children … and those who cover up their misconduct,” he said.
The girl’s pastor, Brian L Williams, 52, pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual battery for assaulting her during a counseling session. He was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2008. The Dispatchgenerally does not identify victims of sexual assaults.
The jury found Grace Brethren Church negligent for failing to act or investigate when some church officials learned that Williams previously was accused of sexually related misconduct with two other girls.
W. Charles Curley, a Columbus lawyer who represents the church, declined to comment, saying he is preparing the church’s response and its own appeal.
The 5th District Ohio Court of Appeals upheld the limit on non-economic damages awarded to the victim and ordered a new trial on Aug. 8 because the jury did not divide fault for the damages between Williams and the church.
Fitch argues that the cap on pain-and-suffering damages illegally deprives his client, now 21, of money for “long-term psychological, psychiatric and medicinal care” for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
“She is afraid of the dark and afraid to be home alone. She is mistrustful and avoids intimate relationships,” he wrote. “She still relives the incident, testifying that ‘two or three times a week, a whole tape will replay in my head of the whole day that it happened.’”
State lawmakers capped non-economic damages in 2005 in a move billed as benefiting businesses and insurers by restricting potential losses in civil lawsuits.