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Oregon Supreme Court knocks down OHSU liability cap

The Oregon Supreme Court today issued an opinion that effectively eliminates the $200,000 cap against lawsuit damages that has for years protected Oregon Health and Science University and its hospital.

But the ruling also may have broad implications for other public agencies within Oregon.

The Supreme Court agreed with a 2006 Oregon Court of Appeals ruling that allowed the family of a brain-damaged child to sue the OHSU hospital for more than $17 million in connection with injuries the child suffered at the hospital as a three-month-old in 1998.

'We look forward to having our day in court,' Sari Clarke, the mother of the now 9-year-old child, Jordaan Clarke, said in a statement issued shortly after the Supreme Court's decision. 'We now have the opportunity to tell Jordaan's story to a jury and work to have those who harmed him contribute to his care.'

A state law limits jury awards against public agencies - including OHSU - to $200,000. But medical malpractice cases often involve lawsuit claims, and awards, far in excess of that figure.

The Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals decision that, while the law can protect public agencies with that cap on damages, it cannot protect employees of public agencies for possible negligence. Since another state law requires public agencies to pay damages won against their employees, the decision effectively eliminates the cap - not only for OHSU, but also potentially for other Oregon public agencies.

Jordaan Clarke suffered what his lawyers say was a 'profound brain injury' when he was three months old while he was in OHSU's surgical intensive care unit. He is now quadriplegic, incapable of being educated, and dependent on caregivers, his lawyers say.

'This is a great day for ordinary people who find themselves injured by negligent medical care at OHSU,' said Bill Gaylord, a lawyer representing the Clarke family. 'Jordan will now be able to exercise the same rights guaranteed to every citizen injured by any other medical center.'

In a prepared statement, OHSU stated that it respects the Oregon Supreme Court's decision, but worries about the impact it will have on the state.

'This ruling is not about OHSU, but rather it is about all public entities,' OHSU said in its statement. 'This decision will have serious adverse financial consequences for OHSU and other public bodies that could result in the loss of important public services.'