Columbus Dispatch [Columbus OH]
March 28, 2022
By Laura A. Bischoff
As a young girl, Amanda Brandt suffered repeated sexual abuse at the hands of her best friend’s father.
Roy Pompa drugged and raped girls – ages 6 to 13 – in his home where he also videotaped the crimes.
The trauma set Brandt on a path of self-destruction as an adult, including heroin addiction, attempted suicide and homelessness, she argues. In 2018, she filed a civil lawsuit against Pompa. The jury said she deserved $134 million for her pain and suffering.
But an Ohio law passed in 2005 limits how much plaintiffs – including survivors of child rape – can be awarded for pain and suffering.
Brandt’s damages for the abuse that happened after the tort reform law took effect were knocked down from $20 million to $250,000. The $14 million in noneconomic damages pre-2005 and the $100 million in punitive damages were unchanged.
Brandt is challenging the law before the Ohio Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments in the case on Wednesday morning.
Ohio’s tort reform law has faced legal challenges before
Brandt is asking justices to overturn two previous rulings. In 2007, the court upheld the overall law. In 2016, in another child sexual assault case, the caps on damages were upheld but the ruling left the door open for another challenge.
Brandt argues that the law hurts the rights of victims of childhood sexual abuse and undermines juries’ roles because their verdicts can be unraveled.
She also argues that the law treats victims who suffer emotional and psychological injuries differently than those with physical injuries.
Pompa, now 65, was convicted in May 2007 of 93 criminal counts and sentenced to life in prison. Pompa wants Brandt’s case dismissed and notes that he can’t pay $134 million or the lesser $114 million judgment.
Brandt’s attorney said there is no evidence on the record about Pompa’s finances.
“Amanda Brandt is bringing this case, beyond whatever benefits she may receive, but on behalf of all the children that are abused. So if Roy Pompa doesn’t have it, Jeffrey Epstein does. Why do we need to protect Jeffrey Epstein or some of these other high profile perpetrators of sexual abuse?” said John Fitch, Brandt’s attorney.https://cm.dispatch.com/overlay/030122_supportlocal2_inline_desktop_anon
Supporters of the law in 2005 said it was needed to curb runaway jury verdicts in liability lawsuits against third parties, such as manufacturers and businesses. Backers described it as a jobs bill that would help the economy.
“What is the business we’re trying to protect if you’re Roy Pompa or someone who is filming these children being raped? He was a purveyor of the pornography. What business are we protecting?” Fitch said. “How does that help the economy?”
Widespread interest in the case
Brandt’s challenge to the law has drawn interest from statewide and national groups.
Backing the existing law are the Ohio Attorney General, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, NFIB Small Business Legal Center, Ohio Alliance for Civil Justice, former state senator David Goodman and others.
The brief filed by business groups urged the court to uphold the law, saying reasonable limits on noneconomic damages are needed for predictability and fairness in the civil justice system. Striking down all or part of the law would have impacts beyond just those who are victims of sexual abuse, the groups said.
The group noted that the law allows for uncapped punitive damages for crime victims.
Backing Brandt are the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence, Ohio Association for Justice and the American Association for Justice.
“The abuse has caused Amanda significant and long-term injury, and fundamental changes to the course of her life,” wrote the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence, a statewide advocacy group. “Amanda Brandt has experienced a living nightmare since Roy Pompa intentionally drugged and sexually abused her repeatedly, at least 34 times across two years of her childhood.”
The nonprofit noted that research shows survivors of sexual assault, particularly those who were raped as children, suffer from long-term consequences including a higher prevalence of anxiety, depression, eating disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicide attempt.
The case also highlights another instance in which the Ohio Supreme Court is divided. In July, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor joined three Democrats on the court in agreeing to consider the case. Republicans Sharon Kennedy, Pat DeWine and Pat Fischer dissented.
Laura Bischoff is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.