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Klutschkowski v. PeaceHealth

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: 09-26-2013
Case #: S059869
Kistler, J. for the Court; En Banc
Full Text Opinion: http://www.publications.ojd.state.or.us/docs/S059869.pdf

Constitutional Law: A statutory cap on a jury's award of noneconomic damages is unconstitutional if the plaintiff's cause of action was recognized by the common law in place when Oregon's Constitution was adopted.

PeaceHealth appealed the jury's award of economic and noneconomic damages. Klutschkowski experienced shoulder dystocia during birth. The dystocia resulted in an injury to Klutschkowski's right arm. The obstetricians invloved worked for PeaceHealth. Klutschkowski filed suit against PeaceHealth for negligence and medical malpractice. At trial, a jury returned a verdict in favor of Klutschkowski awarding economic and noneconomic damages. PeaceHealth appealed, arguing that the trial court improperly instructed the jury and that a statutory cap of $500,000 should apply to noneconomic damages. The Court of Appeals held that PeaceHealth's argument regarding the trial court's instruction was not preserved for appeal and that the statutory cap of $500,000 should apply to noneconomic damages. On appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court, PeaceHealth again argued that the instruction given by the trial court was improper and added that its argument was preserved for appeal. The Court agreed that the argument had been preserved, however, the Court held that PeaceHealth was unable to prove that the instruction prejudiced them in any way. Next, the Court considered Klutschkowski's argument that capping noneconomic damages in this case would violate his constitutional right to a jury trial. To determine whether the statutory cap violated Klutschkowski's constitutional right, the Court needed to determine whether the common law recognized a right to recover for prenatal injuries when the Oregon constitution was adopted in 1857. The Court held that the common law recognized a right to recover for injuries resulting from medical malpractice when Oregon adopted its constitution and that none of the actions occurring here came within an exception to that rule. Therefore, Klutschkowski's constitutional right to a jury trial prevented the use of the statutory cap to the jury's award of noneconomic damages. Judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed in part and affirmed in part. Judgment of the circuit court is affirmed.