“Profit Over People” Prevails Again
Unfortunately, in Simpkins v. Grace Brethren Church of Delaware, 2016-Ohio-8118 the principle of “profit over people” prevailed yet again. If there was ever a set of facts to declare as unconstitutional the non-economic damages caps of R.C. 2315.18, this was the case.
In Simpkins, the plaintiff brought a lawsuit against a church for its pastor’s actions in forcing oral and vaginal intercourse with her who, at the time of being raped, was 15 years old. The jury found that the plaintiff was entitled to $3,651,378.85 in compensatory damages, which included the following: $1,378.85 for past economic damages, $150,000 for future economic damages, $1,500,000 for past non-economic damages, and $2,000,000 for future non-economic damages.
The trial court, in applying R.C. 2315.18(B)(2), reduced the plaintiff’s non-economic damages from $3.5 million to $350,000 and, accordingly, entered a judgment in plaintiff’s favor for $500,000; which is $3.1 million dollars less than a jury of her peers awarded her. So why did the court do that?
As Ohio Supreme Court noted in it’s decision in Simpkins, “[t]he General Assembly enacted R.C. 2315.18 as part of a broader tort-reform bill . . . effective April 7, 2005. In support of those reforms, the General Assembly recognized the state’s interest in ‘a fair, predictable system of civil justice’ that preserves the rights of injured parties while curbing frivolous lawsuits, which increase the costs of doing business, threaten Ohio jobs, drive up consumer costs, and may hinder innovation.” In other words, the General Assembly was more interested in protecting corporate interests than those harmed by them; which in Simpkins, means a child rape victim is just too much of a drain on the economy to merit a full-value award as decided by a jury of her peers.
Revised Code 2315.18(B)(1) does not place a cap on economic damages; meaning out-of-pocket expenses such as medical bills, loss of wages, or other expenses incurred as a result of the injury. In Simpkins, the plaintiff’s economic damages were $1,378.85 (the jury also awarded $150,000 for future economic damages). This is not necessarily unexpected as a rape victim’s economic injuries pale in comparison to the non-economic harm. Revised Code 2315.18(A)(4) states non-economic harm includes “pain and suffering, loss of society, consortium, companionship, care, assistance, attention, protection, advice, guidance, counsel, instruction, training, or education, disfigurement, mental anguish, and any other intangible loss.”
Unfortunately for the plaintiff in Simpkins, R.C. 2315.18(B)(2) caps non-economic damages that can be recovered at the greater of $250,000 or an amount that is three times the economic loss to a maximum of $350,000. Sounds confusing, right? If the jury only found $1,378.85 in economic loss, the plaintiff’s recovery would only be $251,378.85. This is because 3x the economic loss = $4,136.55; so the $250,000 dollar cap would apply. However, the jury also found $150,000 in future economic damages. With this in mind, 3x economic damages = $454,136.55. As that amount exceeds the $350,000 maximum, the trial court reduced the non-economic damages accordingly.
As you can imagine, the plaintiff in Simpkins appealed the substantial reduction of her award claiming the damage caps, as applied to her, were unconstitutional. Quite literally, the Court found “[w]e do not consider here whether there may exist any set of facts under which application of the statutory damage caps would prove unconstitutional. We conclude only that R.C. 2315.18(B) is constitutional as applied to the facts before us . . . .” In doing so, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld this outrageous outcome.
Think about this for a second: in Ohio, we empower jurors to determine whether or not an individual’s life is worth condemning for their crimes yet we do not trust them to determine the full-value of a person’s injuries. Of course, this is because the General Assembly was more concerned about the costs of doing business, jobs, consumer costs, and innovations; and not protecting people who are harmed by wrongful and negligent conduct.
This was not lost on Justice O’Neill, as he stated in his dissent: “[t]his child was raped in a church office by a minister, and a duly empaneled jury established an appropriate level of compensation for the loss of her childhood innocence. We have no right to interfere with that process. Shame on the General Assembly. The children are watching. And I for one do not like what they are seeing.”
Nor was it lost on Justice Pfeifer: “’[t]ort reform,’ however misguided and unconstitutional, was designed to protect doctors and corporate interests. . . . Today, we learn that ‘tort reform,’ not surprisingly, had unintended consequences. It turns out that ‘tort reform’ (and the justices who sanctioned it) also ensured that rapists and those who enable them will not have to pay the full measure of the damages they cause—even if they rape a child. It is past time for the General Assembly (and this court) to reconsider ‘tort reform’ and return the authority to determine damages to juries, where it rightfully and constitutionally belongs.”
If you think this is an unjust result, contact your senator and representative and demand change.
If you have been injured by the wrongful acts or negligence of another, contact me for a no cost, no obligation consultation and case evaluation; I will fight for you.