Damage Caps in Oregon Tort Claims Act Ruled Constitutional
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 malpractice verdict.
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.