The Ohio Supreme Court will now join those in many other states hearing challenges to existing damage award caps. The case before the state’s highest court is different than most in that it concerns damages associated with sexual assault and whether they should be subject to the same cap despite the lifelong repercussions that such an assault can have on a victim.
Currently, Ohio’s law says that victims in civil lawsuits are limited to receiving $250,000 in noneconomic damages. These include things like pain and suffering or emotional distress. These damages can be uncapped only if the harm is deemed catastrophic, meaning permanent physical disability. The state currently does not have a cap on economic loss, such as medical expenses or lost wages, those easy to quantify. The problem is that in truly tragic cases like those involving rape, the real loss isn’t tangible; it’s subjective and thus likely (in the worst cases) to run up against the arbitrary damages cap.
In this case, a 15-year-old girl was raped by a pastor at her church during a counseling session. The man has since pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual battery and is serving a prison term. The girl’s family decided to sue the church after it was uncovered in a subsequent investigation that the church was aware of allegations of inappropriate conduct concerning the minister, but chose to continue employing him.
A jury heard the case and, after deciding the church bore some responsibility for the harm suffered by the young girl, awarded her $3.5 million in damages. However, the jury then was forced to reduce the award to $250,000, given that it was based on noneconomic damages.
The girl’s lawyer is now appealing the reduction of damages, saying that though she cannot point to catastrophic physical injuries to justify exceeding the cap, the emotional harm that can accompany juvenile sexual assault is every bit as serious and deserves to be compensated. Additionally, the lawyer argues that the state’s law violates the girl’s constitutional rights to trial by jury and to due process by depriving the plaintiff of the right to have the verdict of the jury fully enforced.
As in Ohio, many Mississippi personal injury attorneys view the state’s damage caps as unfair restraints on the will of juries. By blunting the impact that large verdicts can have against wrongdoers, the law is bad for consumer rights. If you have been injured and you have a personal injury claim, please contact the Mississippi personal injury lawyers at Kilpatrick & Philley at (601) 856-7800.