Synopsis of Rule of Law. Â
The legislature has the power to vary and modify both the form and the measure of recovery for an injury, as long as it does not leave the injured party with an â€œemasculatedâ€ version of the remedy that was available at common law.
Issue. Whether the elimination of negligence liability of individual public body medical employees comports with the Oregon Constitution, and specifically its â€œremedy clauseâ€, which provides that a legislature may not eliminate a remedy entirely that was available at common law?
No, reversing the trial court, as the legislature completely eliminated Plaintiff’s preexisting right to obtain a full recovery for severe injury suffered as a result of the individual tortfeasors’ medical negligence (reducing $12 million in damages to $200,000 in damages only).
The court reasoned:the remedy clause was intended to preserve the common-law right of action for injury to person or property, and while the legislature may change the remedy or the form of procedure, attach conditions precedent to its exercise, and perhaps abolish old and substitute new remedies, it cannot deny a remedy entirely.View Full Point of Law
As to the first question with respect to Plaintiff’s claim against OHSU, the court answers in the negative, because OHSU would have been entitled to sovereign immunity at common law because it is a public body (entrusted with the duty to promote the public welfare of the people of Oregon through providing education and health care, and is overseen by the state government through the appointment process of its board). Therefore, the tort liability limit against OHSU does not violate the Remedy Clause.
As to Plaintiff’s claim against the individual defendants, the Remedy Clause of the Oregon Constitution does not eliminate the power of the legislature to vary and modify both the form and the measure of recovery for an injury, as long as it does not leave the injured party with an â€œemasculatedâ€ version of the remedy that was available at common law. Here, the infant has suffered over $12 million in damages (representing the lifetime cost of medical care), and yet the legislature has completely eliminated an injured person’s preexisting right to obtain a full recovery for severe injury suffered as a result of individual tortfeasor’s medical negligence. Therefore, eliminating the claim against the individual defendants does not comport with the Remedy Clause.
After this case, the Oregon legislature amended the damage limits to have a cap of $1.5 million, and escalate each year thereafter in response to the case.