Almost 20 years ago, in 2005, the Ohio General Assembly passed tort reform legislation. Unlike previous attempts at tort reform in Ohio, this one survived constitutional challenge. Among other things, the legislation capped damages for pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of society, and consortium. Those kinds of noneconomic damages are now generally capped at $250,000.
However, there are four specific exceptions to the noneconomic damages cap, all of which related to physical injuries: (i) an injury resulting in permanent and substantial physical deformity; (ii) an injury resulting in loss of use of a limb; (iii) an injury resulting in loss of a bodily organ system; and (iv) a permanent physical functional injury that permanently prevents one from being able to independently care for oneself.
On December 16, 2022, in Brandt v. Pompa, the Ohio Supreme Court addressed permanent and severe psychological injuries suffered by a victim of child sexual assault and abuse. In criminal proceedings, a jury found Roy Pompa guilty of 34 counts against Amanda Brandt, and Pompa received a life sentence. In the related civil suit, Brandt argued that the 2005 tort reform legislation was unconstitutional as applied to her – a victim of child sexual abuse who suffered “traumatic, extensive, and chronic psychological injury” and who sued her abuser for civil damages.
In a 4-to-3 decision, the Ohio Supreme Court concluded that because the 2005 tort reform legislation did not provide an exception to the damages cap for severe psychological injury – as opposed to severe physical injury –it deemed the statute unconstitutional as applied to the facts of this case.
Although the Court’s ruling is narrow and limited to victims of child sexual abuse, potential litigants may argue for its application in other contexts involving permanent and severe psychological injuries.
The litigators at Steptoe & Johnson PLLC have experience in guiding clients through these kinds of legal challenges and assessing potential exposure. For assistance or questions about this alert, please contact the authors or a member of the Steptoe & Johnson Business Litigation Team.