A ruling last week by the Oregon Supreme Court, as reported by The Oregonian, leaves justice unfulfilled for one Beaverton woman, though a chance remains that a federal court will view the case differently.
According to the newspaper, the state’s highest court ruled 4-3 that because of a legal technicality the city of Beaverton does not have to pay the victim of one of its police officers’ negligence the $507,500 ordered by a trial court. A jury ordered the money paid to a woman who was left disabled after she was hit by a Beaverton police car while crossing at an unmarked crosswalk in 2007.
The half-million dollar figure for damages in the Oregon car and pedestrian accident case is, itself, a significant reduction of the original verdict. According to the newspaper the jury originally decided on more than $1 million in damages but also found that the victim “and the former Beaverton police officer who had been driving the car… were equally at fault” which led to the cash being cut by half. The city appealed to have its share further reduced to $200,000 citing a state law that caps the liability of municipalities. The federal court hearing the appeal asked the Oregon Supreme Court, the paper reports, to rule on two questions: first, whether the state constitution protects the victim’s “right to a remedy and, if so, whether” $200,000 would be enough. “The court answered yes to both questions” despite the fact that the victim’s documented “medical bills totaled at least $500,000” as reported by The Oregonian.
The case, however, is not yet over. Now that the Oregon Supreme Court has answered the federal court’s questions the issue returns there, to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, for a final decision. The Ninth Circuit is not bound by the Oregon Supreme Court’s ruling.
As an Oregon car accident attorney I can’t help but find this case deeply troubling. The law limiting Beaverton’s liability, the Oregon Tort Claims Act, has been significantly revised in recent years. Were the accident that disabled the victim to take place today, Beaverton’s liability would be capped not at $200,000 for a single victim but at $600,000. In addition, the law sets a different standard for negligence by state versus local officials – had the victim been struck by a state trooper, rather than a local police car, under current law damages would be capped at $1.8 million. The distinction is illogical, even inhumane. Worse, however, is the fact that in neither instance does the law allow for the most basic provision of fairness: an exception in cases, like this one, where real medical damages exceed the cap. The Ninth Circuit has a chance here to offer justice to a victim unfairly denied it by the technicalities of the law.
Oregon Courts website: Oregon Tort Claims Act