Brandt v. Pompa, 2022-Ohio-4525 (Dec. 16, 2022)

Ohio Supreme Court opens the door for a psychological exception to non-economic damage caps.

A jury found that the plaintiff was entitled to an award of $20 million in non-economic damages for emotional trauma following a series of sexual abuses she experienced as a minor. The plaintiff argued that the damages cap was unconstitutional as applied to her because her psychological trauma was so severe. For example, the plaintiff testified she stayed in her bedroom for months at a time, became addicted to heroin, experienced homelessness and made a suicide attempt. Though her life improved and she married and has children, she still suffers from nightmares that impact her ability to sleep and, thus, to have a thriving career. She and an expert testified that her condition was permanent because she would need continued psychotherapy and medication to manage her PTSD for a substantial period of time. 

The trial court and the court of appeals applied the R.C. § 2315.18 damage caps and reduced the pertinent award to $250,000. On appeal, the Ohio Supreme Court found that the cap was unconstitutional as applied to the plaintiff. R.C. § 2315.18 only excepts catastrophic physical injuries from the damages cap and does not provide an exception for psychological injury. In holding that the statute violated the plaintiff’s due process, as applied to her circumstances, the court drew a possible new limited exception “(f)or this limited class of litigants—people like Brandt who were victimized at a very young age and who bring civil actions to recover damages from the persons who have been found guilty of those intentional criminal acts (***).” Justices Kennedy, Fischer and DeWine dissented from the majority opinions application of the due process clause.

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