Injuries are not created equal. But that has not stopped legislatures in Oregon and other states from deciding that there are limits as to what an injury victim may be entitled to recover. The thing is, even though the law may put a cap on what a plaintiff can claim, the Oregon Supreme Court has ruled that sometimes the cap might not apply.
In cases where it is clear that negligence by another has contributed to the infliction of the injury or has caused death, the law allows for the awarding of damages for economic losses. That is, such things as the costs of medical care, loss of income and earning potential due to the injury can be recovered.
But damages that might be awarded for emotional pain and distress over the wrongful death of a loved one can be capped at $500,000. Supporters of caps say noneconomic damages aren’t based on objective data and can spark frivolous suits. Critics say capping takes away the power of the jury to make the determination of what’s fair.
Defendant doctors, nurses and hospitals accused of negligence are often the beneficiaries in such cases. But the limits on compensation are not cut and dried. As we noted, the Oregon Supreme Court has issued decisions in which the caps have sometimes been upheld and sometimes been deemed unconstitutional.
In one notable decision in 2013, the court ruled that the cap should not apply in the case of an infant who suffered nerve damage during birth. The justices based its decision on a finding that nature of the plaintiff’s claim was such that it might have resulted in an uncapped jury award under the law that was in force before the Oregon Constitution was ratified in 1857.
What this reflects is that whether capped noneconomic damage awards are constitutional or not may depend on the circumstances of a given case, and that’s something to assess in consultation with an experienced attorney.