The Oregon Health and Science University Hospital could escape most of a court-ordered $12 million payment to a patient’s family because of a state law that limits how much money judges can order publicly-funded entities to pay to plaintiffs who pursue civil litigation.
OHSU Hospital was ordered to pay $12 million in damages to the family of a child who was forced to receive an emergency liver transplant after hospital staff botched the then-9-month-old’s liver surgery in 2009. The hospital reportedly acknowledged that doctor negligence played a role in the botched operation, but a limit imposed by the Oregon Tort Claims Act could shield the facility from the brunt of the $12 million payment.
The law places a $3 million cap on such payments, though the family claims that sum would not even fully pay for the child’s new liver. The plaintiffs assert that the boy will also likely require medication for the rest of his life and could even require another transplant, making $3 million insufficient to repay them for the hospital’s negligent care.
The cap does allow legal challenges to bypass the Oregon Court of Appeals and send the directly to the state’s Supreme Court, which could be useful for the family in the event they decide to pursue the full sum. It is unclear whether they plan to do so, but the appeals process is an important part in ensuring that Oregon citizens do not suffer undue damage from rules designed to protect the state and state-funded bodies.
OHSU has paid the $3 million not protected by the Oregon Tort Claims Act, most of which has gone to pay back the plaintiffs’ insurers and Stanford University Medical Center, where the child underwent a number of surgeries. The family reportedly has an additional $2.5 million in bills for the Stanford procedures.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys assert that OHSU is hiding behind the cap and ignoring its responsibility to the boy, who nearly died and was not able to return to his home due to the extensive operations required to correct the damage caused by the initial botched surgery.
Source: Oregon Live, “OHSU lawsuit: Jury returns $12 million verdict against hospital, but OHSU may not pay it” Helen Jung, Sep. 13, 2013