In a 4-3 opinion, the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled that noneconomic damage caps were unconstitutional as applied to a victim of sexual assault. The Court’s opinion in Brandt v. Pompa, Slip Opinion No. 2022-Ohio-4525, found that the damage cap statute in R.C. 2315.18 was arbitrary and unreasonable, and that it violated the due course of law guarantee in the Ohio Constitution.
In 2006, Roy Pompa was arrested and charged with 17 counts of rape, 5 counts of kidnapping, 55 counts of pandering sexually oriented matter involving a minor, and 21 counts of gross sexual imposition against numerous children, including Amanda Brandt, a friend of his daughter. He was found guilty on 90 of those counts and was sentenced to life in prison. Brandt, who was 11 and 12 years old at the time of the abuse, sued Pompa in 2018 in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas. At trial, Brandt testified to the traumatic effects of Pompa’s abuse, including heroin overdose, severe, lifelong anxiety, and homelessness.
After hearing Brandt’s testimony and the testimony of a psychological expert who opined that Brandt was suffering from severe PTSD, the jury awarded Brandt (1) $14 million in compensatory damages for the abuse she suffered before April 6, 2005, when Ohio’s noneconomic damages caps statute went into effect, (2) $20 million in compensatory damages for the abuse she suffered after R.C. 2315.18 went into effect, and (3) $100 million in punitive damages.
Pompa filed a post-trial brief requesting a reduction of Brandt’s $20 million in noneconomic damages based upon a tort reform provision that limited non-economic damages for certain types of injury. The trial court granted his motion and reduced Brandt’s damages to $250,000. Brandt appealed on the basis that the statute was unconstitutional as applied to her, and the Eighth District Court of Appeals affirmed. Brandt appealed again to the Ohio Supreme Court, which reversed the Eighth District Court of Appeals’ judgment.
In doing so, the Court recognized that the statute contains exemptions for “catastrophic” physical injuries, but no similar carve-out for catastrophic injuries which are psychological in nature. The Court found that the statute’s separate treatment for psychological and physical injuries which are catastrophic in nature was arbitrary, and thus unconstitutional as applied to individuals who were child victims of intentional criminal acts. The Court took note of several factors which were unique to Brandt’s injuries, including her young age at the time of the abuse, and the permanent and severe nature of her injuries. The Court further indicated that there were existing safeguards under which a defendant could seek review of an award to ensure that the award is not influenced by “improper considerations” that may inflame a jury’s passion.
Going forward, parties involved in cases which present significant psychological injuries will need to evaluate whether R.C. 2315.18 can be constitutionally applied to asserted noneconomic damages in light of Brandt. In doing so, it will be necessary to determine whether any asserted psychological injuries may be properly consider to be as “catastrophic” as Brandt’s, such that application of the damage caps statute may be considered arbitrary.
If you have any questions regarding the potential impact of this ruling, please contact an attorney from Reminger’s General Liability Practice Group.