The Oregon Supreme Court recently ruled in a split decision that limits
on damages to plaintiffs set by the Oregon Tort Claims Act are constitutional.
Oregon state law caps damages owed by public bodies at $3 million. That
means that even if a medical mistake results in $5 million in medical
bills and future medical expenses, state law would still cap damages owed
to the plaintiff at $3 million. The recent decision by Oregon’s
Supreme Court ruling damage caps constitutional stemmed from an appeal
by Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) of a $12.1 million medical
A Multnomah County jury found that a family whose 8-month-old son was harmed during surgery at OHSU
should receive $12.1 in damages. OHSU immediately appealed the judgment,
citing the state law that caps damages at $3 million, regardless of actual
cost incurred by the negligence. OHSU actually has a $30 million insurance
policy to cover these very types of medical mistake claims, but the $3
million cap remains.
What does this cap mean for the family in this case? It means that the
money they can receive from OHSU for their error will not cover the total
cost of damages resulting from the hospital’s negligence. Not only
does the family still have $3 million in unpaid medical bills, but they
also don’t have the money to pay for their son’s future medical costs.
A delicate balance exists between minimizing the financial impact litigation
can have on state and municipal agencies and providing compensation to
Oregonians who have been harmed by an agency or its employees. Currently,
OHSU exists as a public body, but cause may exist to relegate it to the
same bracket as private hospitals. Healthcare costs are rising, and many
believe they are rising at a rate that is far disproportionate to current
damage caps set by the Oregon Tort Claims Act that was established in 1967.
Sadly, it is only a matter of time before another case like this one happens again.