In late 2004 Republicans in the Ohio legislature passed Senate Bill 80, putting a cap on noneconomic damages in civil cases. Under the law, juries are not able to award more than $500,000 to victims for things like severe pain or physical and emotional distress.
The bill was sponsored by now-Congressman Steve Stivers. The co-sponsors included many familiar names from today’s General Assembly including Jay Hottinger, Lynn Wachtmann, Chris Widener, Ron Amstutz, Keith Faber and Kirk Schuring. All have since switched from the Senate to the House or vice versa.
“Senate Bill 80 is now law. Woo-hoo!”1 yelled then-Governor Taft when he signed the bill in January of 2005. He claimed it would “help curb frivolous lawsuits” in Ohio.
In Saturday’s Dispatch we learned about the type of “frivolous lawsuits” Senate Bill 80 is actually curbing: a women raped multiple times by her pastor when she was 15 was awarded $3.6 million in damages by a jury, but the amount was cut to $500,000 because of the limits imposed by SB 80.
Amazingly, Schuring, one of the original co-sponsors, defends the law and the decision by the court that further punishes rape victims. “$500,000 is not a small sum of money”, said Schuring. “And who’s to say that $3.6 million is enough? Why not $36 million?”
The answer, of course, is the jury, Mr. Schuring. That’s “who’s to say”. A jury who actually hears the details of the case and the injury suffered.
Sadly, Republican lawmakers knew that victims of rape and sexual assault would be impacted by the law, and nearly all of them voted for it anyway.
According to Gongwer reports from 2004, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Civil Justice approved an amendment to SB 80 after hearing testimony over concerns about rape victims. The amendment would have prevented caps from applying in cases of sexual assault – but the language never made it into the Senate version of the bill.
During House hearings on the bill, the Ohio Employment Lawyers Association warned lawmakers that “rape victims who suffer a brutal sexual assault and a lifetime of trauma, fear and emotional pain” would find their compensation capped at an arbitrary amount. The House version also contained no exception for victims of sexual assault.
Stivers knew the bill would punish victims of rape and sexual violence. Schuring knew it. Current Senate President Keith Faber knew it. Every Republican in the 125th General Assembly knew it. And 44 of them still put their names on the bill as sponsors.
Here’s the list of sponsors of Senate Bill 80:
Senators: Stivers, Hottinger, Goodman, Wachtmann, Amstutz, Randy Gardner, Austria, Nein, Schuring, Armbruster, Coughlin, Carey, Harris, Mumper, Schuler
Representatives: Buehrer, Calvert, Carmichael, Cates, Clancy, Collier, D. Evans, Faber, Flowers, Gibbs, Gilb, Hagan, Hoops, Martin, Raga, Reidelbach, Schaffer, Schmidt, Schneider, Setzer, G. Smith, Taylor, Trakas, Wagner, Webster, White, Widener, Widowfield, Wolpert
1.Taft: Bills will boost businesses, Dayton Daily News, Friday, January 7, 2005
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