Monday, September 23, 2013

Oregon's State Body Tort Cap

Generally speaking, I don't like lawsuits. I think they are to civil justice what personal firearms are to criminal justice. They can serve individual needs, but they make no allowance for community interest and not infrequently the two work at cross purposes. Medical malpractice is a good example.

Lawsuits allow select individuals to recover some damages, but they also encourage providers to take a pre-emptive "defensive" stance when adverse events occur. Instead of analyzing errors and broadly distributing lessons learned providers have incentive to clam up and hope no one notices. The consequences are visible in statistics. The IOM estimated at least 44,000 deaths per year are caused by preventable medical errors but fewer than 5,000 payments per year for fatalities are logged in the National Practitioner Data Bank, a registry of medical malpractice payments. I think the community would be better served by encouraging processes that reduce errors, even if that alters the way individuals seek recovery. Oregon's new malpractice reform is a modest step towards that goal.

Having said that, there are times when individual interests do trump community interests. The constitution enshrines the principal that people cannot be arbitrarily punished or have property seized without due process. Even if the community overwhelmingly supports such an action and even if the community would overwhelmingly benefit from it, in the absence of due process such a taking violates the core individual rights that we grant ourselves. 

I don't see how those rights can be honored by the current tort cap which limits recoveries even for specific economic damages. It imposes arbitrary and unlimited costs on individuals without process or appeal. I say it with a grimace, but I think Mr. Pope is right.

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