“Tort Reform” enacted by the Ohio General Assembly in 2005 designed to protect doctors and corporate interests also ensures that rapists and those who enable them will not have to be held to the full measure of damages they caused – even if they rape a child.
The Ohio Supreme Court in the case of Simpkins v. Grace Brethren Church of Delaware, Slip Opinion No. 2016-Ohio-8118, affirmed the Fifth District Court of Appeals Decision allowing a $3.6 million dollar jury verdict in favor of Jessica Simpkins to be reduced to $500,000.00, limiting non-economic damages pursuant to tort reform legislation. Simpkins and her father sued the church and former church leaders claiming that in March 2008, Brian Williams, the senior pastor of Sunbury Grace Brethren Church, forced oral and vaginal intercourse with Simpkins, who was 15 years old at the time. Williams was convicted of 2 counts of sexual battery and sentenced to 2 four year prison terms.
Although Simpkins argued the caps limited non-economic damages, which include pain and suffering, loss of consortium, loss of companionship, disfigurement, and mental anguish, are unconstitutional when it comes to minors because they suffer far more long-term consequences from the emotional damages of a sexual assault then they would from any economic damages.
Writing the court’s lead opinion, Justice Judith L. French wrote that the damage caps are constitutional and the Simpkins’ constitutional rights of trial by jury were not violated.
The Simpkins family’s claims against Delaware Grace Brethren Church were for negligent hiring and retention and supervision of Pastor Williams. Williams was hired by Delaware Grace in 1988 as a youth pastor and became an associate pastor. In 2004, Williams worked on establishing the new Sunbury Grace Church with the support and assistance of the Delaware Grace Elder Board. Delaware Grace provided the primary financial support for creating Sunbury Grace, and a Delaware Grace pastor served as Williams’ supervisor for at least a year after he became senior pastor at Sunbury Grace. In March, 2008, Simpkins met with Williams in his office for a private counseling session. Williams demanded oral sex from Simpkins, and she testified that she initially refused but eventually complied, seeing it as her only option to get out of the office. She said she ran for the door, but Williams blocked and shut it and then forced her into vaginal intercourse. The lawsuit alleged the church knew or should have known that Williams was unqualified to serve based on prior incidents while Williams worked at Delaware Grace. In Justice O’Neill’s dissenting opinion, the following is written:
I must dissent from the court’s decision on the first proposition of law. I cannot accept the proposition that a teenager who is raped by a pastor fits into a preordained formula for damages. Are we really ready to affirm the legislature’s decision to say to a future victim, “We don’t know you, we don’t know the facts of your case, and we don’t know what a duly empanelled jury is going to say, but your damages are a maximum of $500,000.00?”. No parent of a teenage daughter would accept that outcome as being just.
By reducing the award to $500,000.00, the trial court has removed the jury from the process. If the General Assembly can limit damages for claims to $500,000.00, or $350,000.00, what would prevent it from limiting damages to $1.00?