Oregon Senate votes to increase public liability caps

Chris Rizo Feb. 23, 2009, 4:00pm

Floyd Prozanski (D)

Alan Bates (D)

SALEM, Ore. (Legal Newsline)-The Oregon state Senate on Monday handily approved legislation that could allow plaintiffs to sue state and local governments for more money than currently allowed under the state's public liability cap.

Senate Bill 311 would increase government liability caps so juries could award more money in cases where a government agency was found to be negligent. The Senate approved the bill 24-5. The five no came from Republicans.

The legislation calls for increasing the liability cap $100,000 a year to a maximum of $1.5 million by 2015 for individual claims against state government. The plan would increase the cap to $3 million for all claims from a single incident. The bill also would eliminate the distinction between economic and noneconomic damages.

Lower caps would be allowed for cities, counties, school boards and special districts, under the changes to the Oregon Tort Reform Act backed by Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski and the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association.

"The limits set today are reasonable, appropriate, and redress a long standing problem," said state Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and co-chair of the Tort Claims Task Force.

State Sen. Alan Bates, the Democratic lawmaker who is the only physician in the Legislature, had earlier opposed the measure, saying the plan would afford special protections for government doctors but not those in private practice.

He voted for the proposal despite earlier threats to block the legislation, which now moves to the Democrat-led House.

"I don't think we've seen the end of this issue," Bates, D-Ashland, said in Senate debate Monday. "I believe that we are going to have to deal with (tort reform) in the next session and the one after."

The bill follows a landmark 2007 Oregon Supreme Court ruling that found the state's current $200,000 cap to be inadequate.

In its decision, the high court affirmed a 2006 Oregon Court of Appeals ruling that allowed the family of a brain-damaged child to sue Oregon Health and Sciences University for more than $17 million in connection with injuries Jordaan Michael Clarke suffered at the hospital as a three-month-old baby.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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