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May 6th, 2016

Oregon High Court Upholds Statutory Damages Limit in Suits Naming State, State Employees as Defendants

A 5-2 majority of the Oregon Supreme Court has upheld a $3 million statutory limit on tort awards in lawsuits against the state or its employees.

The Oregon Supreme Court

With an 86-page majority opinion issued May 5, the high court overruled prior precedent as inconsistent with the history of the right to a remedy and the right to a jury trial.  A 32-page concurrence by Justice Jack Landau (seated far right in nearby photo) argued that the majority did not go far enough in overruling prior bad precedent.

The case was brought by the parents of a 9-month old child injured during surgery in 2009.  A Portland jury initially awarded more than $12 million in damages.

The state-funded hospital asked the court to lower the final judgment to $3 million per the statutory limit.  The trial court reduced the award to the limit for the hospital but left a surgeon liable for the remaining $9 million of the award.  On appeal, the high court upheld the constitutionality of the statutory limit and found the doctor to be working on behalf of the state while performing the surgery.

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