ICYMI: Mic — How Republicans’ tort reform laws leave sexual assault victims behind

In case you missed it… Mic yesterday highlighted how a 2004 Ohio law — which was sponsored by Congressman Steve Stivers and supported by Secretary of State Jon Husted, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, state Rep. Keith Faber, Congressman Bob Gibbs and Congressman Bob Latta — hurts sexual assault victims.

In December, the Republican majority on the Ohio Supreme Court ruled against a woman who was raped as a teen in Delaware County, slashing the compensation a jury awarded to her because of “tort reform” legislation.

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said:

“When we talk about so-called ‘tort reform,’ it’s important to understand how it harms victims in Ohio. As the Mic story explains, a young woman who was viciously attacked by her pastor was denied the full measure of justice because of callous legislation that Ohio Republicans, including Jon Husted, Mary Taylor and Keith Faber, pushed through. There is bipartisan legislation to address this travesty. Republican legislative leaders should send this bill to Governor John Kasich’s desk by the end of the year and show that they care about protecting sexual assault victims.”

The House roll call vote for Senate Bill 80 of the 125th General Assembly is available here:

Mic: How Republicans’ tort reform laws leave sexual assault victims behind

Key Points:

  • Ohio’s strict tort reform law limits non-economic damages in civil lawsuits to $350,000 in most cases, except those “involving permanent and substantial physical deformity, loss of use of a limb, loss of a bodily organ system or other permanent physical injuries.” What Simpkins learned when she tried to pursue justice through the civil courts is that, despite the psychological after-effects of her assault, she didn’t qualify as having “catastrophic” injuries.

  • The legal issue is that Simpkins’ attacker — former Sunbury Grace Brethren Church senior pastor Brian Williams — didn’t leave her permanently disfigured or physically injured when, during a counseling session in his office to discuss her grades and her parents’ separation, he coerced her to perform oral sex, pulled off her pants and then, in the words of the court, “engaged in forced vaginal intercourse with her.”

  • And so Simpkins sued the church in 2012 for failing to take action against Williams, which she asserted could have prevented her assault. The jury ruled in her favor, but the trial judge reversed its $3.5 million award for pain and suffering — money which, among other things, could have helped Simpkins pay for mental health treatment — to meet the $350,000 limit. And, in 2016, the Ohio state Supreme Court ruled against her appeal that the cap on non-economic damages should apply to her as a victim of childhood sexual assault.

  • “I think with the tort cap, the way the courts look at it now, they don’t take it case by case, they just have a set law and don’t look at the individuals,” Simpkins said of the proceedings.

  • In 2017, state Rep. Anne Gonzales (R) and Kristin Boggs (D), introduced legislation to revise Ohio’s tort reform law to include an exception to the damage cap for victims of “rape, felonious assault, aggravated assault, assault or negligent assault asserting any claim resulting from the rape, felonious assault, aggravated assault, assault or negligent assault.” The legislation never even got a committee hearing.

  • Ohio passed its current law in 2004 at the behest of the state’s Republican-controlled legislature, and its Republican governor (who was convicted of misdemeanor ethical violations later that year) signed it into law in early 2005.