Oregon medical malpractice limit upheld

By WILLIAM McCALL Associated Press Writer

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Oregon Supreme Court has upheld a five-year statute of limitations on medical malpractice lawsuits involving minors.

The court ruled Thursday against a 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.

The claim came from a woman who sued Providence Health System, claiming its doctor did not recognize signs of fetal distress when her son was being born and failed to perform an emergency Caesarean section.

In another ruling involving health care providers, the Supreme Court overturned the dismissal of a lawsuit against Farmers Insurance Co. for denying medical payments.

In the malpractice case, Kelly Christiansen sued Providence eight years after her son was born.

The boy had been diagnosed with various developmental disorders and partial epilepsy that other doctors blamed on fetal distress causing “an anoxic event,” or lack of oxygen that required resuscitation after 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, now 18. She argued that the state’s constitution protected that provision from change.

But in a unanimous opinion by Chief Justice Paul De Muniz, the court rejected her argument.

It said it agreed with Christiansen that the five-year limitation “can lead to harsh consequences in some cases,” but there is nothing in the state constitution to prevent the Legislature from setting the limit as it did.

In a dispute over medical payments for traffic accident claims, the Supreme Court overturned the Oregon Court of Appeals and sent a lawsuit against Farmers Insurance Co. back to Multnomah County Circuit Judge Jean Kerr Maurer.

Five customers with automobile insurance policies sued Farmers, claiming it wrongly denied their medical costs resulting from traffic accidents because Farmers used a computerized review system instead of conducting an individual medical examination.

The court ruled that when a health care provider submits a claim for medical expenses it is presumed to be reasonable and necessary, and it is up to the insurance company to prove otherwise.

The court said the Legislature prohibited insurers from denying payment of claims without conducting a “reasonable investigation” of those claims, and the computerized review did not meet that requirement.

Justice Thomas Balmer noted in a separate opinion that the claim was part of a class-action effort to challenge similar practices by large insurance companies across the country.

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