When a plaintiff is successful in proving a defendant’s liability in a personal injury case, they are then able to recover both economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages refer to an amount of money centered around the monetary losses incurred as a result of the injury. Usually economic damages include medical bills, lost income, property damages, loss of earning capacity, and more. Non-economic damages refer to damages that are hard to quantify. They normally include damages for pain, emotional injury, reputational damage, loss of enjoyment of activities, or worsening of prior injuries.
Legislation is being proposed in Oregon that could enhance the amount of non-economic damages plaintiffs could seek in a personal injury lawsuit. In 1987 the state of Oregon implemented a damage award cap of $500,000 for non-economic damages that could be awarded in personal injury lawsuits. The cap was in place until 1999 when the Oregon Supreme Court ruled the cap to be unconstitutional in personal injury lawsuits, but left the cap intact for cases centered around wrongful death actions. However, the Oregon Supreme Court reinstated that $500,000 personal injury cap in 2016 in the case of Tyson Horton vs. Oregon Health & Science University.
Now, support is building for Senate Bill 737 that would again remove the $500,000 cap for non-economic damages in personal injury cases.
Detractors argue that removing the cap would result in higher damage awards which would then lead to higher insurance premiums for doctors. A senior vice president at The Doctors Group, a company that insures approximately 2,600 healthcare providers in Oregon has stated that general surgeons in San Francisco paid about $20,000 in liability insurance in 2016 in a state with a $250,000 non-economic damage award cap. That number is $40,000 less than general surgeons in Seattle which does not have a non-economic damage award cap.
Senate Bill 737 was first introduced to the Legislature on Tuesday, Feb. 7, and passed out of committee on Thursday, April 6. It’s currently awaiting a full vote on the Senate floor. 16 votes are needed for the Bill to pass.
Damage caps are currently a hot topic around the country. The argument is a bit “chicken and egg” in that proponents of damage caps feel that they are necessary to insulate medical practitioners from career-threatening litigation while proponents feel that it is the risk of incredibly high damage awards that should scare medical practitioners into proper behavior.