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In a recent and narrow Decision (Brandt v. Pompa, Slip Opinion No. 2022-Ohio-4525; 4-3) the Ohio Supreme Court determined that Ohio Revised Code §2315.18 (Ohio’s Tort Reform Statute) is unconstitutional when applied to claims involving “child victims of intentional criminal conduct and who bring civil actions to recover damages from the persons who have been found guilty of those intentional criminal acts.”
Since 2005, Ohio’s Tort Reform Statute has placed certain limits upon non-economic compensatory damages awards (i.e., emotional distress / pain and suffering.) The statute does provide a paradigm of certain exceptions for those instances where the evidence shows the damages complained of involve compensation for permanent and debilitating injuries. However, in Brandt the Court concluded that the exceptions found within R.C. §2315.18 do not apply to permanent psychological injuries for Plaintiffs bringing causes if action within this finite class of claims.
The Brandt Court, in reviewing §2315.18, employed the same rational basis standard of review which the Ohio Supreme Court used in 2007 when originally determining the constitutionality of R.C. §2315.18. However, when asked to revisit the statutory scheme considering this discrete cause of action, the Brandt Court concluded that R.C. §2315.18 impermissibly does not allow for “limitless non-economic damages for those suffering catastrophic injuries.” The Court in Brandt ultimately held that “child victims of intentional criminal conduct and who bring civil actions to recover damages from the persons who have been found guilty of those intentional criminal acts” and who have shown severe psychological injuries as a result were, by operation of the statute, denied a remedy under due course of law which the Ohio Constitution otherwise guarantees.
In reaching this determination, the Court’s slim majority made two points relatively clear. First the ruling is to be narrowly tailored to those Plaintiffs bringing causes of action within the narrowly defined scope of claim. Second, the exceptions found within R.C. §2315.18 fail to consider any catastrophic injuries beyond permanent physical loss. As a result, the Court concluded that claims of child victims of sexual abuse who suffer permanent psychological damage are not to be limited by the statutory non-economic damages caps.
The further possible impact of this Decision remains to be seen. In a dissenting opinion, Justice Kennedy (who was recently elected Chief Justice for the Court’s following term) offered a rather scathing comment regarding what she determined to be judicial activism on the part of the majority. On the other hand, the created narrow exception offers recourse to what many people may consider a small yet deserving group of Plaintiffs.
While the Ohio legislature may quickly step in, it is quite likely that in the interim counsel for tort claimants will begin advocating the Brandt Decision in the context of myriad other personal injury suits.