March 1, 2011

Two bills in the Oregon House of Representatives would change the state’s medical malpractice landscape dramatically. One bill proposes a $500,000 cap on non-economic damages. The other bill would establish legal medical panels that would vet claims against health care providers prior to trial.

The $500,000 cap would be in place during calendar year 2011. The State Court Administrator would adjust the limit every year after that, in accordance with the consumer price index. The bill would not affect economic damage awards.

Economic damages are awarded to pay for past or future medical expenses or the expenses necessary to care for the injured party. In very simple terms, these are expenses that the injured person or his caregiver can produce receipts for.

Non-economic damages are frequently the target of reform efforts. In comparison to economic damages, these are awarded to compensate for more personal losses. The bill defines them as “subjective nonmonetary losses.” Pain and suffering, for example, is classified as non-economic. Other examples are emotional distress, loss of companionship, loss of consortium and interference with normal/usual activities. Losses caused by interference with gainful employment, however, are classified as economic.

Proponents of this bill (HB 3228) say that not having a cap on damages “threatens the ability of providers to practice” in the state. They add that it is a necessary element of health care cost containment in general.

Damages aren’t the only part of medical malpractice lawsuits in legislators’ crosshairs. We’ll discuss the other bill, and legal medical panels, in our next post.

Source: Insurance Journal, “Oregon Proposes Medical Malpractice Cap,” 03/25/11


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