The Oregon Supreme Court has handed down a ruling that upholds a law limiting the amount of damages people can collect when suing the state or state employees. These damages are capped at $3 million dollars. That may sound like a lot, but for those who have suffered medical malpractice at the hands of a state-run hospital, they could easily incur that much, or more in medical expenses due to the malpractice.
That is what happened to the family whose lawsuit against OHSU ultimately led to this decision. When Tyson Horton was eight months old in 2009, he had liver surgery at OHSU that was mismanaged. He nearly died as a result. He nearly died as a result and had to be flown to Stanford University Medical Center for additional surgeries, including a liver transplant using part of his mother's liver.
His parents, Lori Spiesschaert and Steve Horton, sued OHSU in Multnomah County Circuit Court. The jury trial concluded with an award of $12.1 million dollars: over $6 million for past and future medical expenses, and an additional $6 million for pain and suffering. OHSU had admitted fault, so the only issue was the amount of damages.
The family has already received $3 million, but Tyson's medical bills to date exceed $5 million. Stanford, the hospital that saved Tyson's life, may not ever receive payment for their work, and the family will likely be forced into bankruptcy by the medical bills for services needed to keep their little boy alive.
To be clear, the damages cap confirmed in the Horton case does not only apply in medical malpractice cases, but it is such cases that often involve severe injuries and significant damages. The Oregon Supreme court suggested that limiting damages against public entities, like OHSU, is necessary to protect the ability of those entities to serve all Oregonians. It seems clear that the Court was performing a balancing act, balancing the rights of injury victims with the state's ability to provide benefits and services to all residents. If the coffers are drained by lawsuits with huge verdicts, goes the argument, resources won't be available for other needs, for the greater good.
This sounds almost reasonable until you consider specific cases like that of the Hortons. Victims of surgical malpractice or other forms of medical malpractice are injured, often severely, sometimes permanently, through no fault of their own. Not only do they experience pain, suffering, and serious limitations of function, they may literally have millions of dollars in medical bills. It seems unfair that the burden of this balancing act should fall on their shoulders.
Does it still make sense to file a medical malpractice case in light of this Supreme Court decision? Unequivocally, yes. Remember that this damages cap applies only to lawsuits against the state and its employees. Even if your situation does involve a state organization or employee, it's still worth it to pursue whatever compensation you're eligible for, because you may not be able to anticipate all your future expenses.
In addition, medical malpractice cases are not just about money. They are about holding medical facilities and professionals accountable for their negligence. If you have been the victim of medical malpractice, you deserve the closure that comes from a successful lawsuit, in addition to deserving compensation for your injuries.
In order to get the best guidance and advocacy in any Oregon medical malpractice case, retain an experienced Portland, Oregon medical malpractice attorney. We invite you to contact Huegli Fraser PC for a free, confidential initial consultation. We look forward to answering your questions about fees and anything else to do with your medical malpractice matter.
The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not make a decision whether or not to contact a qualified medical malpractice attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with a competent medical malpractice attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.
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