Ohio court case seeks to increase amount of money child sex abuse victims can receive

SUNBURY, Ohio (WCMH)–The Ohio Supreme Court will hear arguments next week in a case that challenges the constitutionality of the Ohio law that limits compensation for childhood victims of sexual abuse.

At the center of the case is Jessica Simpkins, who was 15 years old when she was raped by her pastor at Grace Brethren Church in Sunbury.

The pastor, Brian Williams, went to prison.

A Delaware County jury awarded Simpkins more than $3.5 million for pain and suffering. But her attorney, John Fitch, says the award was reduced to $250,000 because that’s the maximum for damages under the state law.

Simpkins says she suffers from post-traumatic-stress-disorder and relives the events in her head several times a week.

“It seems like I can’t go a day without thinking of it,” Simpkins said.

And now, Simpkins believes she is being re-victimized by the state law that caps damages for pain and suffering at $250,000.

Fitch says the law, as it applies to cases of childhood sexual assault, is bad public policy.

“The child gets very little out of the case under this current law,” Fitch said. “The larger question is why are we capping damages against those who commit such violent and heinous acts.”

The Ohio Chamber of Commerce has been a strong supporter of tort reform in Ohio and setting caps on damages. President Andy Doehrel says businesses need some type of certainty.

“If you don’t have that type of certainty, one – you can’t cover it with insurance and, two- you won’t be able to stay in business,” Doehrel said.  “Because as soon as a case hits and you’ve based it (the law) on outliers that have huge awards, companies can’t survive that kind of thing.”

The law makes exceptions for catastrophic injuries. Fitch believes there should also be an exception for cases like Jessica Simpkins.

“We think that if you rape a child that’s a catastrophic injury to the child even though the child doesn’t have a scar or some physical deformity,” Fitch said. “Abusing a child is a bad thing. We don’t want to discourage the rights of the child to pursue the abuser or those who have acted in concert with them – that’s bad public policy.”

The Ohio Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case Dec. 15.

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