Horton v. OHSU

Summarized by:

  • Court: Oregon Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Remedies
  • Date Filed: 05-05-2016
  • Case #: S061992
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Kistler, J., for the Court; Balmer, C.J.; Brewer, J.; Linder, S.J. pro tempore; Landau, J., concurring; Walters, J. & Baldwin, J., dissenting.
  • Full Text Opinion

The cap on damages in the Oregon Tort Claims Act, ORS 30.265(1) and ORS 30.271(3)(a), does not violate the remedy clause, Article I, section 10, or the jury trial clause, Article I, section 17, of the Oregon Constitution.

Horton sued OHSU in tort. Defendants moved to reduce the jury’s verdict to $3000 under the Oregon Tort Claims Act (OTCA), which limits a plaintiff’s remedy against a state body. ORS 30.265(1); ORS 30.271(3)(a). The trial court denied Harrison’s motion and held that OTCA violated the remedy clause of Article I, section 10, and the jury trial clause of Article I, section 17 of the Oregon Constitution under the standards of Smothers v. Gresham Transfer, Inc., 332 Or. 83, 23 P.3d 333 (2001). Harrison appealed, arguing that the trial court’s interpretation of the aforementioned clauses was ahistorical and inconsistent with other cases. Smothers required that Oregon courts ask “whether the plaintiff has alleged an injury [which existed when the Constitution was written] to one of the...rights...Article I, section 10 protects.” Analyzing the history surrounding Article I, section 10, the Court concluded that most cases of the time “recognized that legislative interference with the courts” could infringe a plaintiff’s “constitutionally protected right to a remedy.” The Court overruled Smothers because it was inconsistent with the history of Article I, section 10, as well as the related case law, as the Court found it likely that the framers of the Oregon Constitution intended for common-law needs in remedies to change with time. The Court held that the right to a jury trial under Article I, Section 17 of the Oregon Constitution did not render a cap on damages unconstitutional. Reversed and remanded.

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