Ohio domestic violence victims can now sue abusers for civil damages

Ohio courts have recently allowed a domestic abuse survivor to sue her ex-husband for damages.

A 2015 case decided by the General Division of the Ohio Court of Common Pleas involving a battered woman who brought a civil suit against her former husband may give domestic violence survivors throughout the state the ability to collect compensation from their abusers. The case sets forth an important legal distinction between a divorce case filed in the state's domestic court from a civil suit for damages for assault.

Many states - Ohio used to be one of them - previously did or still do recognize some form of what is legally known as "inter-spousal tort immunity" where one spouse is immune from civil suit for an intentional or negligent tort committed against the other spouse that resulted in personal injury. Ohio abolished that doctrine in the mid-1980s, but this case is still one of - if not the - first of its type in the state where a judge has said that a victim of domestic abuse is entitled to compensation for damage done due to relationship violence.

A precedent-setting case

This case involves a Franklin County woman who was severely injured by her then-husband during an attack in 2013. The brutal assault left her with serious injuries including several fractured facial bones. The husband was arrested and charged with misdemeanor domestic violence as a result of that incident; he was later convicted. In spite of the severity of her injuries, however, his sentence only consisted of two days in jail, a fine of $100 and two years probation.

It was after learning of the relatively minor legal consequences her former husband would face as a result of the attack - and the fact that he may be, in spite of his abuse, entitled to half her assets in a divorce - that the woman and her attorney filed this suit in the Court of Common Pleas. The case sought financial compensation for the medical expenses, pain, suffering and emotional distress she suffered following the attack. Her ex-husband had challenged the case, saying that any alleged domestic violence was actually intertwined with the divorce case, since it was "a complaint of conduct and claims arising out of the marital relationship."

The judge disagreed with the man's arguments, saying that the action was tantamount to an intentional tort committed by one party against another, and that the Domestic Relations Court wouldn't have jurisdiction over such a matter. No actual damage award has been made public in the case at this time, but the fact that the victim has been granted the ability to pursue compensation at all is a huge step forward for battered spouses around the state.