Oregon Supreme Court upholds malpractice limits

Chris Rizo May 9, 2008, 12:40pm

Chief Justice Paul De Muniz

SALEM, Ore. (Legal Newsline)-The Oregon Supreme Court this week upheld a five-year statute of limitations on medical malpractice lawsuits involving minors.

The high court ruled Thursday against a woman's claim that laws in effect when Oregon was a territory blocked a five-year statute of limitations that the Legislature approved after Oregon became a state.

Kelly Christiansen sued Providence Health System, claiming one of its doctors failed to recognize signs that her son was experiencing fetal distress being born and failed to perform an emergency Caesarean section.

She sued Providence in January 2003, eight years after her son was born.

The boy had been diagnosed with various developmental and neurological disorders, including epilepsy, which other doctors blamed on fetal distress that caused a lack of oxygen that ultimately required artificial resuscitation after his birth.

Christiansen argued that when Oregon was a territory, negligence suits involving a minor could be filed at any time before the child reached the age of majority because a statute was in place that tolled the limitation period for minors.

She also argued that the state's constitution protected that provision from change.

The court rejected her argument unanimously.

The court's opinion by Chief Justice Paul De Muniz said the justices agreed with Christiansen that the five-year limitation "can lead to harsh consequences in some cases."

He added that state lawmakers are not barred from setting the statute of limitations as it did.

"The Remedy Clause creates no barriers to the enactment of a statute that modifies the disability protection that minors enjoyed before 1859. Consequently, the pre-statehood disability law does not protect mother from the five-year limitation," he wrote.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo by e-mail at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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