In this article, we examine several Oregon laws that could have an impact on any medical malpractice claim brought in the state's court system. We'll start with the deadlines for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit in Oregon, and then we will turn to the state's rules on payment of damages in medical malpractice cases, including the rules that apply when multiple defendants are at fault.
In Oregon, medical malpractice claims are governed by the state's "statute of limitations," which sets a deadline for filing a case in court after an injury occurs. Oregon requires that medical malpractice claims be filed in court within two years of the date the injury occurs or the date the injury should reasonably have been discovered, but no more than five years from the date the injury occurs.
If an injury results in wrongful death, any lawsuit must be filed within three years of the date of injury, the date of discovery, or the date of death, but no more than five years from the date the injury occurred.
Minors under age 18 and persons who have been deemed "insane" have five years from the date they turn 18 or are no longer deemed "insane," respectively.
Many states place a cap on damages in medical malpractice cases. Oregon has limited damage caps in these kinds of cases. While the state's constitution prohibits caps on non-economic damages in personal injury cases, Oregon has capped non-economic damages in wrongful death cases at $500,000, and this cap applies to wrongful deaths caused by medical malpractice.
The cap applies to "non-economic" damages only. Non-economic damages include damages for pain and suffering, loss of consortium, loss of care and guidance, and similar losses. Damages for specific monetary losses like medical bills and lost wages are known as "economic" damages, and no cap applies to this kind of compensation.
Oregon's comparative fault rule applies in medical malpractice cases in which an injured plaintiff is found to be partly at fault for his or her own injuries. Under this rule, an injured plaintiff cannot recover any damages if he or she is found to be more than 50 percent at fault. If the injured plaintiff is found to be 50 percent or less at fault, he or she can recover damages, but the total damages award is reduced by the amount of fault attributed to the plaintiff.
Here is an example of Oregon's modified comparative fault rule in action. Suppose that in a medical malpractice case, an injured plaintiff is found to be 40 percent at fault for failing to seek prompt care after realizing that the defendant injured her. The defendant, a doctor, is found to be 60 percent at fault. Under Oregon's comparative fault rule, the damages award in the case is reduced by 40 percent, because this is the percentage of fault assigned to the plaintiff. If the plaintiff had been assigned 51 percent or more of the fault, however, the damages award would drop to $0 automatically, and the plaintiff would not be allowed to collect any damages from the defendant.
Oregon also has special rules governing joint liability in medical malpractice cases when more than one defendant is found to have committed medical negligence. In these cases, each defendant is responsible for paying only a portion of the total damages award that corresponds to the percentage of his or her fault. However, if a defendant is unable to pay his or her share within one year, responsibility for that share is split up among the remaining defendants.
Here is an example of Oregon's joint liability rule. Suppose that in a medical malpractice case, two doctors and a hospital (a total of three defendants) are all found to share liability for a plaintiff's injuries. The doctors are each found to be 20 percent at fault, and the hospital is found to be 60 percent at fault. Under Oregon's joint liability rule, each doctor would be responsible for paying only 20 percent of the total damages award, and the hospital would be required to pay 60 percent.
However, suppose that within one year, one of the doctors goes bankrupt and is unable to pay his share of the damages. The 20 percent originally assigned to the now-bankrupt doctor would be assigned instead to the remaining doctor and the hospital to pay (each would probably assume an equal 10 percent share).