Last month, an Ohio Court awarded Jennifer Kershaw $1,580,000 in compensatory damages and $20 million for punitive damages. The Defendant was her former spouse, Jerry Bailey. The lawsuit was over physical injuries she received from being punched in the face repeatedly by Mr. Bailey while the two were still married. Mr. Bailey was fined $100, sentenced to two years probation, and served a mere two days in jail after a conviction of misdemeanor domestic violence for his then wife’s broken facial bones. Two days in jail. $100. Probation. Case over? Not yet.
Genesis 2, verse 24 reads “… man shall leave his father and mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” Aside from the spiritual aspects this invokes, it is the “one flesh” that was used indirectly to deny women the right to vote, to own property, and other core rights we as women now take for granted. Women were considered part and parcel of their husband’s person and even property, depending on the time and culture. If the two were “one flesh”, a woman’s individual rights merged with of those of her spouse. The rights belonged to him alone, not her individually. And to be fair, men could not sue their wives either.
Times change. Tennessee abolished interspousal tort immunity in 1983 with Davis v. Davis, 657 S.W. 2nd 753 (1983). In Davis, a wife sued her husband for injuries she received from his negligent operation of a boat. That case opened the door for suits against spouses in Tennessee, but that open door has not turned into an open flood gate. While relatively few, it is still possible to pursue an action in tort against a spouse in Tennessee.
While the Kershaw judgment will be reduced under Ohio’s caps for punitive and non-economic damages, the case sends a message that domestic abuse – by either spouse – is not okay and will not be tolerated.
Whether you are male or female, if you are facing domestic abuse, get help. Being hit is never “your fault”. Filing suit is not your first step – but getting and staying safe is. We can assist you with Orders of Protection, filing for divorce, custody or suit when you are ready.
Click here to read more about Ms. Kershaw’s case.