If you're a resident of the Beaver State and have recently been injured in an accident, you may be reviewing your available legal options. While a personal injury or other civil tort claim may be the best recourse if you're dissatisfied with the settlement offer made by the responsible party's insurance company, when you're suing the state, your options can be a bit different – especially after a recent Oregon Supreme Court decision upholding the statutory cap on damages that can be assessed against state agencies. Read on to learn more about how this decision could impact a potential civil case. 

What effect did the Oregon Supreme Court's recent decision have on civil tort law? 

The Oregon Supreme Court's decision made no new law, but simply clarified the constitutionality of a statutory cap on the amount of damages that can be awarded to someone injured or harmed by a state actor – including state-run hospitals, schools, and other organizations. This cap, enacted in 2009, prevents those who were allegedly injured by the state to collect no more than $3 million in total damages. In affirming the constitutionality of this law, the Oregon Supreme Court overturned a $12 million verdict to the family of a young child who was injured during a medical procedure at an Oregon hospital, holding that the law limiting damages was constitutional and the trial court acted outside the scope of its legal abilities in affirming the $12 million judgment.  

How could this impact your personal injury case?

This decision makes clear that anyone filing a civil suit, including a personal injury lawsuit, against a state actor or entity will be unable to recover more than $3 million in damages – even if your own financial and emotional damages far exceed this amount. However, the Oregon Supreme Court did split when deciding on this issue, with two of seven justices dissenting from the majority opinion upholding the tort cap, suggesting that this issue could potentially be revisited (perhaps with a different result) in another case.

In proceeding with your claim, you may want to investigate the involvement of any non-state entities to determine whether you can add them as defendants – the $3 million cap affects only state agencies and employees, so someone who shares responsibility for your injuries but isn't employed by (or otherwise acting on behalf of) the state may be assessed a judgment much higher than $3 million.