POLAND TWP. Ex-worker wins suit
Common-law marriages that began before October 1991 are recognized as legal in Ohio.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Poland Township officials who sought to recover $23,000 in benefits from a former township road worker must now pay the man $55,000.
Through their verdict, jurors in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court found Wednesday that Robert Swesey did not intend to defraud the township when he collected family health benefits instead of individual benefits.
They also found that the township was wrong to fire him over the issue and awarded the $55,000 as compensation for lost wages. Swesey had requested $110,000.
Poland Township officials said Swesey had listed himself as "married" on applications for health benefits since 1988 but was not legally married until 1996.
Swesey and his wife, Ida Lewis, contend that they had been married, through common law, since 1988.
A common-law marriage is one that exists as an agreement between a couple without a civil or religious ceremony. Ohio legislators outlawed common-law marriages in October 1991. However, any such unions formed before that time are still recognized by the state.
The township had fired Swesey in 1998 and sued him for $23,000 -- the difference between the cost of individual health insurance and the amount the township had paid for the family policy.
Swesey, who had served the township for 21 years, countersued for the lost wages.