You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Domestic violence survivor stunned by $21 million award in lawsuit against her ex-husband

The Washington Post The Washington Post 16/06/2016 Lindsey Bever
Jennifer Kershaw after a 2013 domestic violence incident. © Courtesy of Jennifer Kershaw Jennifer Kershaw after a 2013 domestic violence incident.

Nearly three years ago, Jennifer Kershaw was in an Ohio hospital with a broken cheekbone, a swollen eye and cuts and bruises, telling authorities she did not want to press charges against the man she said was responsible.

She said she has since taken back her power.

“I think, looking back now, I was just a typical battered woman trying to protect my husband,” she told the Columbus Dispatch last year.

Kershaw filed a civil lawsuit in 2014 to hold her now-ex-husband accountable for beating her and to send a message to other abusers.

On Tuesday afternoon, according to the Dispatch, she stood in a courtroom in Franklin County, Ohio, awaiting the verdict.

A judge announced Kershaw’s award for compensatory damages: $1,580,000.

Kershaw was so overwhelmed that she did not hear what the judge said next: $20 million for punitive damages.

“I think I was in shock,” Kershaw told The Washington Post on Wednesday.

“Now I feel a sense of relief and justice,” she added. “It’s kind of like a weight has been lifted.” 

The case is believed to be one of the first in Ohio in which a domestic-violence victim has brought a civil lawsuit against an abusive spouse — and won.

“The attitudes are still behind the times, which I think is why we really haven’t seen a case like this,” Kershaw’s attorney, Michael King, told The Post.

King said he hopes the case will help bring attention to domestic violence and send a message that these crimes are “not okay, not acceptable and not tolerable.”

Because Ohio law places limits on non-economic damages (such as pain and suffering) as well as punitive damages, King said Kershaw’s actual award will be about $3.5 million — a number the attorney called “offensive” relative to the $21 million judgement.

But Kershaw has told the Columbus Dispatch that the purpose of her lawsuit was to help her “feel empowered” and to give power other domestic violence victims.

“I felt like he was in control with everything,” Kershaw told the newspaper last year about her ex-husband.

In filing the lawsuit, she said: “That was the first time I felt empowered throughout this whole process.”

Her ex-husband, Jerry Bailey, could not immediately be reached for comment.

He does not appear to have an attorney, and he did not show up in court Tuesday to hear the judge’s decision, according to the Dispatch.

According to the US National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in three women and one in four men have reported being victims of some form of physical violence by a partner — and one in five women and one in seven men have reported being victims of severe physical violence.

The most commonly abused victims are women between the ages of 18 and 24, according to the data.

Kershaw, a 36-year-old first-grade teacher who went by Jennifer Bailey before her divorce, said she had returned from a festival late one night in August 2013 to an “agitated” husband, according to a complaint filed in 2014 in the Court of Common Pleas of Franklin County, Ohio.

The lawsuit states that Bailey, now 40, grabbed his wife and pushed her — and that when she tried to leave the home, he blocked her.

“He’s thrown things at me and he’s broken things and he’s smashed I don’t know how many glasses — I think to scare me and it did scare me,” she told the Columbus Dispatch last year, “but there was a higher level of danger.

“I sensed a higher level of danger that night, for sure — because it escalated so quickly.”

When Kershaw tried to escape, Bailey snatched her keys and her cellphone and then tried to restrain her, according to court documents.

At one point, she got to the garage door and, the lawsuit claims, Bailey put her in a headlock and “repeatedly and maliciously struck her in the face with his fist and knee.”

Once he realized she was injured, he told her, “I can’t believe your eye,” according to the lawsuit.

“I am going to go to jail for this,” he added, the lawsuit said.

“He held me against my will in my home and he punched me over and over while I was in a headlock and he kneed me on my right cheek and broke my cheekbone,” Kershaw told the Columbus Dispatch last year.

“Luckily I escaped and I’m okay.”

Kershaw told authorities she made it out “screaming for help as loudly as she could” and ran to a neighbor’s house where she called her parents, according to the lawsuit.

She was later taken to an emergency room with numerous injuries to her face.

Bailey was found guilty of misdemeanor domestic violence and was sentenced to 180 days in jail — 178 of which were suspended — and two years’ probation, according to court documents.

“I just felt like he was getting away, and he really rocked my world,” Kershaw told the Dispatch last year.

So, she said, she decided to sue him in civil court for assault and battery, false arrest or imprisonment and intentional infliction of serious emotional distress.

Bailey, the Dispatch reported, tried to get the case thrown out, saying it was “a complaint of conduct and claims arising out of the marital relationship” and had been settled in the divorce.

But a judge ruled that the civil case should proceed.

The same judge later decided that Kershaw was entitled to damages.

“He’ll have more consequences than just the slap on the wrist he received before,” Kershaw told the Dispatch. “We won all of our claims against him — I feel like that’s huge.”

Kershaw told The Post that her court battle has been a long and painful struggle — but that it was worth it.

“Every time I knew I was going to have a court date, all of those stressors and feelings came back up and I had to relive it,” she said. “I had to go back through some very dark times and share that with the jurors so they understood what happened that night.”

“I’m hoping that it’s the closing of a book,” she added, “and I can finally put it to rest and move on with my life.”

More from The Washington Post

The Washington Post
The Washington Post
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon