The current $500,000 cap in Oregon on the amounts that can be awarded for damages such as pain and suffering (non-economic damages) in personal injury cases may be eliminated. The State Senate arrived at what some deem to be a compromise in Bill 737 by allowing for $10 million in these awards for damages, rather than the unlimited amount that was initially proposed. Those in opposition say this lofty cap will not prevent extreme jury awards or control the costs of liability insurance. Fawn Barrie, of the Oregon Liability Reform Coalition, says that the $10M cap is well beyond what juries usually award in these cases.
The $500,000 limit was enacted in 1987 to curtail massive jury verdicts. In 1999, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled the limit was unconstitutional for personal injuries matters, yet retained it for wrongful death actions until 2016. The Supreme Court decision in Horton v. Oregon Health & Science University led to the return of the $500,000 limitation. Supporters of the $10 million cap, say that since the $500,000 limit was reenacted no evidence exists that liability insurance rates have fallen, while the opposition says that premiums will rise and drive up the overall costs of healthcare.
A victim advocacy group launched a television campaign in support of the bill, citing $500,000 as being insufficient for catastrophic-type injuries. This topic had resurfaced based on a Multnomah County Court case where a jury awarded Scott Busch $10.5 million in a civil case. Busch’s leg was severed by a garbage truck that made an unlawful turn in Portland. The judge in the case reduced the award to $500,000, sparking considerable controversy.
Oregon Statute defines non-economic damages as those in civil matters that arise from injury or death, which include suffering, distress, and losses of comfort, consortium, or companionship. Economic damages are quantifiable financial losses including expenses for medical care, rehabilitation, funeral expenses, loss of income from work, property damage and more. Juries are not made aware of the limitation prior to awarding damages in cases, rather they are reduced to the cap when needed at the conclusion of the case.
Oregon does allow for punitive damage awards; however, they are not to be requested at the onset of the proceedings. During the second phase of the matter, the plaintiff may request that the pleading is amended and provide supporting documentation for the court to consider. Punitive damages are only possible if it can be definitively proven that the defendant acted with malice or total indifference for the safety and well-being of others. When juries are tasked with awarding punitive damages in Oregon, the court may review the amount based on a variety of factors and make adjustments accordingly. In addition, defendants may petition the court for reductions in punitive damages if they are able to prove they have made remedial efforts to make amends and measures to prevent repeating the actions.