Task force will study medical liability caps

by Janie Har

Legislature – Oregon’s low limits will not be fixed in the current special session — Lawmakers will not deal with Oregon’s low liability limits this session and instead moved Wednesday to create a task force to recommend ways to try to fix the problem in time for the 2009 session. Senate Judiciary Chairman Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Beaverton, will head the group. Other members will be announced next month.

The task force is in response to an Oregon Supreme Court ruling in December, which effectively threw out the $200,000 limit that state agencies, local governments and special districts can pay to compensate an injured person. Specifically, the court ruled the cap was unconstitutional in the case of Jordaan Michael Clarke, whose claim against Oregon Health & Science University is estimated at $17 million.

In a concurrent ruling, Justice Thomas Balmer wrote that lawmakers should have raised the caps on medical malpractice damages long ago and suggested that they do so immediately.

But legislators say the Supreme Court also made it clear that raising the caps won’t be enough and that they need a more comprehensive approach.

The task force is set to study provisions in other states, rates of inflation, economic versus non-economic damages, and the possibility of separating medical malpractice cases from other negligence claims.

Prozanski said he expects conversations with lawmakers, actuaries, government officials and trial lawyers to be frank and useful.

“I don’t think anyone should be coming in with a preconceived notion of what we’re going to do,” he said.
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