Roy Pompa faces a civil judgment for $114,250,00 for having sexually abused Amanda Brandt 34 times when she was a middle schooler. The abuse came during sleepovers at Pompa’s house when Amanda was a guest of Pompa’s daughter.
Pompa is serving a life sentence for child rape, and he’s now being represented before the Ohio Supreme Court by a high profile, business litigation firm, Zeiger Tigges & Little, which in and of itself is interesting. More about this in a minute.
The issue is whether the statute that limits damages for non-economic damages—think pain and suffering—is unconstitutional. Based on the statute, $20,000,000 of the verdict was reduced to $250,000.
Certain types of physical injuries, such as loss of limb or physical deformity, are exempt from the cap. Psychological harm, even if permanent, doesn’t fall within the exceptions.
As the court explained in a prior case, the legislature drew a distinction between “catastrophic” injuries which “offer more concrete evidence of noneconomic damages” and, those that are not. Apparently, the harm that comes from rape is not catastrophic.
How did the Zeiger firm—its clients include big names, like the Columbus Partnership, Fifth Third Bank and NetJets—come to represent a child rapist, likely impecunious, before the supreme court?
Could it be the business community felt threatened?
Amands’s case is the third challenge for the tort reform statute, and—surprisingly—Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, a Republican, voted to hear the case.
When you feel threatened, you pull out the big guns. Enter Zeiger. Joining the fight alongside whatever entity is funding Zeiger are the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business, and the American Tort Reform Association.
There’s nothing inappropriate with the situation, but it gives visibility to a longstanding fight between tort victims and the business community.
After lobbying for years, the business community finally got its way in 2005 with the statute that is now before the court.
The Zeiger firm argues that, prior to 2005, a jury verdict for “non-economic damages was just as likely to be the result of passion, prejudice, and other impermissible biases as it was the result of actual harm.” Supposedly, we have “a system yielding unfairness and inequality.”
Those who represent tort victims, such as Amanda’s attorney, John Fitch, argue that wrongdoers must be held accountable for the injuries they cause. The tort system plays in important role in controlling misconduct and compensating victims.
Shouldn’t Pompa be held accountable for the post-traumatic stress and emotional pain he caused Amanda to suffer by sexually abusing her?
Tort reform, says law school professor F. Patrick Hubbard, has created a culture war of sorts that seeks to distinguish between “greedy whiners” and “worthy victims.”
But even worthy victims, who don’t meet the mandated exceptions, are subjected to damage caps.
Juries are criticized for awarding damages based on what is perceived as whim. True, there are no objective standards by which to value the psychological harm that comes with the loss of limb or rape.
Surely, outrage plays some role in how jurors value these harms, but the general assembly’s approach was no better. The $250,000 cap was not born of Solomonic wisdom. It’s a number that was pulled out of thin air—that the business community likes.
Even if Amanda prevails, it will likely be an empty victory, as Pompa is supposedly penniless.
Because a favorable decision won’t help Amanda, the Zeiger firm argues there is no controversary at stake, and without a controversy, the court should reverse its decision to hear the case.
But for Fitch, the big picture is at stake, and that would be fairness or tort victims—the value of Amanda’s life and the depth of her injury—something the legislature wasn’t concerned about when passing tort reform.
[This post was published as an op-ed, written by Jack D’Aurora, in The Columbus Dispatch on March 28, 2022.]