Most Ohians are unaware that the legislature, in an attempt to help insurance companies and businesses, passed a law in 2005 that automatically reduces jury verdicts for certain types of damages.  Last week, this law came into play in a devastating way after a jury awarded a young woman 3.65 million dollars after she was sexually assaulted by her minister in a counseling session.  The woman was 15 years old at the time she was raped by the minister.   Under the new law, the jury verdict was automatically reduced to $500,000.

Here are the basic facts.  The woman was sexually assaulted by her minister during a counseling session.  The pastor, Brian Williams, forced her to perform sexual acts with him in his church office according to court records from his trial.  Williams pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual battery and is currently serving an eight year prison sentence.  This was not the first time Williams had been accused of being sexually inappropriate with young women at his churches.  Despite this, his church, Grace Brethren Church of Delaware, which supervised Williams still supported him and allowed him to counsel young women.  His victim has endured considerable post-traumatic stress and other emotional problems as a result of his actions. 

At trial, the jury concluded that the church was negligent and should have done more to protect the teenage girl.  The woman, now 21 years old, was awarded $150,000 for future money she could not earn because of her emotional difficulties and $3,500,000 for her emotional injuries. 

Under the law, emotional injuries and other non-economic injuries are limited to $350,000.  As a result, the $3,500,000 award was reduced to $350,000 for the emotional damages and then the economic losses of $150,000 were added to it.  This resulted in the $500,000 verdict.

Republicans in the legislature that passed this law continue to defend their actions.  They say that the law was necessary to protect Ohio businesses.  Others believe that one of the underlying reasons for the law was to weaken plaintiff-personal injury attorneys who often support Democratic candidates. 

As this case ably demonstrates, the law hurts all Ohioans.  When the legislature tries to substitute its judgment for that of juries, the result is injustice.

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