Oregon courts have tilted the playing field in favor of personal injury lawyers. In 1999, for example, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that a 12-year-old limit on non-economic damages in medical liability cases was unconstitutional. The result was more lawsuits and larger awards against Oregon’s physicians and health care providers – and a medical liability crisis. More recently, the Oregon Supreme Court has done little to curb excessive punitive damage awards, and has either disregarded or not applied guidelines set by the U.S. Supreme Court.  

Recent court decisions and legislative events suggest that the state’s legal climate is likely to worsen rather. These decisions show that juries are awarding constitutionally improper damage awards, and the Oregon Supreme Court is allowing it. In recent legislative sessions, the plaintiff’s trial bar has pursued an aggressive anti-business agenda. All of this puts Oregon’s businesses at risk.

For example, the Oregon Supreme Court:

  • Ruled that a 12-year-old statute that limited non-economic damages to $500,000 or less was unconstitutional in 1999. [1]
  • Disregarded a US Supreme Court ruling [2] that established a single-digit ratio between punitive damages and compensatory damages by approving a 96 to 1 award of $79.5 million in punitive damages in 2006. [3] In May 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to re-hear the case during its 2007 term to more clearly instruct the Oregon Supreme Court and other state courts on the intended ratio between punitive damages and compensatory damages.
  • Held that a reform provision in the workers’ compensation law violated the Oregon Constitution because it was inconsistent with the law of remedies and dictionary definitions from the 1800s! The provision required an employee to show that a work-related incident was the major cause of a claimant’s disability or injury [4]

 

[1] Lakin v. Senco Prods., Inc., 329 Ore. 62 (1999) (holding that Ore. Rev. Stat. 18.526(1), which creates a $500,000 limit on non-economic damages was unconstitutional).

[2] State Farm Mutual Auto. Ins. Co. v. Campbell, 538 U.S. 408,425 (2003).

[3] Williams v. Philip Morris Inc., 340 Ore. 35 (2006).

[4] Smothers v. Gresham Transfer, Inc., 332 Ore 83 (2001).