Medical malpractice occurs when a patient is injured as a result of negligence or omission by a doctor, hospital, or other healthcare provider. The negligence may occur by way of misdiagnosis, misprescription, mistreatment, or health management errors.
In order for a damages claim to be considered medical malpractice, the negligence or omission must violate the standard of care and result in significant damages. In a viable case, patients are able to show substantial injuries or damages occurred due to medical malpractice.
History of Oregon Caps on Damages for Medical Malpractice
Statutory damages awards are granted in some civil medical malpractice cases. Several states have caps on damages set for medical malpractice payout amounts.
Although each state has a different cap, the federal government has a $250,000 cap set for non-economic medical malpractice damages. Non-economic damages may include bodily injury, pain and suffering, property damage, emotional stress, or wrongful death. In medical malpractice cases, plaintiffs may claim loss of care, comfort, companionship, or consortium.
Previously, caps were set in place limiting the amount of money awarded for statutory damages to injured patients and their families in Oregon. The cap for non-economic damages for medical malpractice in the State of Oregon was set to $500,000 in 1987.
The Oregon Supreme Court changed their position in 2016 when they decided Horton v. Oregon Health & Science University, 359 Or. 168. In Horton v. OHSU, the plaintiff was awarded over $12,000,000 by the jury and the defendants invoked a $3,000,000 damages cap set in place by the Torts Claims Act. The plaintiff responded by challenging the cap as unconstitutional under Oregon’s Jury Trial Clause and Remedy Clause. The Court reversed its previous position and decided that a damages cap can be ruled unconstitutional if the cap’s ceiling is insubstantial when compared to a jury’s award amount.
The Remedy Clause
The Remedy Clause of Article 1, Section 10 of the Oregon Constitution states that, “No court shall be secret, but justice shall be administered, openly and without purchase, completely and without delay, and every man shall have remedy by due course of law for injury done him in his person, property, or reputation.” This allows some medical malpractice plaintiffs to argue that caps on non-economic damages violate Oregon’s constitution.
Rains v. Stayton Builders Mart, Inc.
In the medical malpractice case Rains v. Stayton Builders Mart, Inc., Kevin Rains fell 16 feet when a defective board broke at his job site. He was rendered paraplegic. Mr. Rains and his wife, Mitzi Rains, sued a number of parties including the manufacturer of the defective board. They sought economic and non-economic damages for bodily injury as well as loss of consortium.
The jury awarded Mr. Rains $3,928,275 in economic damages and $2,343,750 in non-economic damages. In addition, Mrs. Rains was awarded $739,375 in non-economic damages. The verdict award amounts were not reduced to Oregon’s cap on damages. One of the third-party defendants in the case appealed. Upon appeal, the plaintiffs argued that the Court was right in not reducing the damages award amount because the damages cap violated the Remedy Clause.
The Court decided the remedy clause protected Mrs. Rains’ claim of loss of consortium. In addition, the Court decided the damages cap violated the Remedy Clause. The final decisions for Rains v. Stayton Builders have eliminated Oregon’s cap on non-economic damages for the time being. However, it is likely this decision will be further reviewed by the Oregon Supreme Court.