OHSU Reacts to Oregon Supreme Court Ruling Regarding the Oregon Tort Claims Act

01/09/08  Portland, Ore

Ruling shows need for action by the Oregon legislature to ensure that essential public services provided by public entities remain available to citizens of the state of Oregon

OHSU's statement
"OHSU respects the Oregon Supreme Court's decision. However, we are concerned about its statewide consequences. This ruling is not about OHSU, but rather it is about all public entities.
This decision will have serious adverse financial consequences for OHSU and other public bodies that could result in the loss of important public services.  

OHSU has repeatedly stated that Oregon's tort cap needs to be raised.  However, we also believe a cap is essential to preserving the ability to provide valuable and necessary services provided by public entities including OHSU.       

We expect that the Governor, the legislature and the people of the state of Oregon will recognize the urgency with which a solution must be found that addresses claimants' needs, yet allows for the preservation of public resources to ensure the availability of public services throughout the state.

We are pleased that the court recognized that OHSU is a public entity that provides public services and qualifies for tort protection along with all other public entities."

Summary of ruling
On December 28, 2007 the Oregon Supreme Court announced its decision on Clarke v. OHSU which involves the Oregon Tort Claims Act. In today's ruling the court reaffirmed a previous Oregon Court of Appeals conclusion that OHSU is a public body and therefore entitled to tort cap protection like other public entities such as schools and fire departments.

The court also ruled that the state constitution provides for a remedy that is "adequate," and apparently determined on a case-by-case basis. Finally, the court said it is unconstitutional to substitute a public body as the defendant in place of individual employees if that results in an inadequate remedy. The opinion leaves ample room for the legislature to make changes to the remedies so long as those changes provide an adequate remedy compared to what was available to the injured party previously.

In the Clarke case, the Supreme Court effectively struck down the liability cap in this particular instance and therefore damages could be awarded above the cap during future court proceedings.
OHSU files lawsuit against insurance provider in response to ruling
In light of today's ruling which subjects OHSU to potentially unlimited liability, OHSU has filed a lawsuit against one of its insurance providers, Washington Casualty Company, regarding a limited number of pending liability cases. OHSU filed the suit following notification by Washington Casualty that the insurance company would refuse to pay covered losses if Oregon Supreme Court proceedings did not completely reinstate OHSU's protection under the Oregon Tort Claims Act.

About OHSU
Oregon Health & Science University is the state's only health and research university, and only academic health center. As Portland's largest employer and the fourth largest in Oregon (excluding government), OHSU's size contributes to its ability to provide many services and community support activities not found anywhere else in the state. It serves more than 184,000 patients, and is a conduit for learning for more than 3,900 students and trainees. OHSU is the source of more than 200 community outreach programs that bring health and education services to each county in the state.