Oregon lawmakers advance bill to increase liability caps

By Chris Rizo | Feb 13, 2009

Dr. Alan Bates (D)

SALEM, Ore. (Legal Newsline)-A bill winding its way through the Oregon Legislature would allow plaintiffs to sue state and local governments for more money than currently allowed under the state's public liability cap.

The proposal was approved this week by the Democrat-led state Senate Judiciary Committee.

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 bill would eliminate the distinction between economic and noneconomic damages.

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.

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

Bucking his party, state Sen. Alan Bates, the Democratic lawmaker who is the only physician in the Legislature, opposes the measure, saying the plan would afford special protections for government doctors but not those in private practice.

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.

In an earlier interview, Bates told Legal Newsline that only protecting doctors at OHSU is unfair.

"My position is if it's good enough for the doctors at OHSU, it's good enough for every doctor in the state," said Bates, D-Ashland. "If a plan comes through only for them, I will oppose that plan and try to line up the necessary votes to block the plan in the Senate."

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

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