Senate votes down bill to eliminate pain-and-suffering damages cap in most injury cases

The Oregon Senate narrowly voted against a bill on Tuesday to remove a $ 500,000 limit on the amount injured Oregonians can receive in compensation for pain and suffering when they sue for damages.

House Bill 2014 failed by 14-15 votes and supporters of the bill have little hope that it will be revived before this year’s term ends at the end of the month.

“The decision was just to kill the bill immediately – I think it would have been very difficult to work out a compromise,” said Arthur Towers, political director of the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association, which represents the plaintiffs’ attorneys.

This is true even if several senators in their speeches said they were not against the idea of ​​increasing the $ 500,000 ceiling on noneconomic damage that private companies and individuals must pay to injured people, including victims of sexual assault, car accidents and others Workplace accidents and medical malpractice.

The upper limit was first set by the legislature in 1987. Many lawmakers agree that given 32 years of inflation, it’s out of date.

Senator Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, had proposed a change that would not remove the cap, but increase it to $ 1.5 million and revise it up over time. Thatcher called her proposal a “good faith counteroffer” and “a real effort to fix what some would say is long overdue”. However, her proposal was rejected by many senators who wanted the $ 500,000 limit to be lifted entirely.

Many advocates of the law, as originally proposed in the Senate, said they voted yes because they believe in the right of catastrophically injured people to have juries determine how much they are due for their suffering. The bill would not have affected the amount injured people could suffer from economic damage – actual monetary losses such as lost wages and medical bills. There is no upper limit that juries can award for economic damages.

When Senator Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, argued for the bill, he told the story of Isabelle Norton from Springfield, who was two years old when her father helped his daughter with his lawnmower. Last year, a Lane County jury ruled that most of the mistake was with the mower’s manufacturer, John Deere, after the girl’s lawyers alleged that John Deere had failed to install key safety features that could have prevented the accident.

The jury ruled that John Deere would have to pay approximately $ 6.2 million in economic damage and $ 3.3 million in non-economic damage, the latter for the girl’s pain and suffering. The case is on appeal, however, as the $ 500,000 non-economic damage cap is likely to prevent them from collecting the full $ 3.3 million.

“It’s time for us to do the right thing,” said Prozanski, calling on the Senate to lift the cap.

The vote was largely partisan, with all eleven Republicans voting against the bill and four Democrats joining them. Those Democrats included retired Gresham nurse Laurie Monnes Anderson and Beaverton-based doctor Elizabeth Steiner Hayward.

Steiner Hayward said many might think she would vote against the bill because she is a doctor. Many in the medical industry oppose the bill because they believe that one of its effects will be to increase the rate of malpractice.

However, Steiner Hayward said she supported a modified proposal that would limit noneconomic claims for damages to $ 1.5-3 million for people injured in real accidents. Steiner Hayward said she would support lifting the limit for repeated negligence or criminal activity that harms people.

– Aimee Green

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