New Damages Cap Case
Posted on November 9, 2017
This month, the court of appeals (Judge Rex Armstrong) issued a new opinion on the constitutionality of the cap: Vasquez v. Double Press Manufacturing, Inc.
The first version of this case (“Vasquez I”) had been decided over a year ago by the court of appeals. It is a personal injury (not death) claim filed by Kafoury, which resulted in a jury verdict of $2.3M in economic damages and $8.1M in noneconomic damages, along with a finding of 40% comparative negligence by the plaintiff. The defendant had sought to enforce the $500K cap on noneconomic damages, but in Vasquez I the court of appeals rejected that argument by following Lakin and holding that the cap violated the constitutional right to a jury trial (Section 17).
One day after Vasquez I was published, the Supreme Court issued the Horton v. OHSU opinion, which, among other things, overruled Lakin. As a result, the parties in Vasquez asked for the issue to be reconsidered in light of Horton, and in this month’s opinion (“Vasquez II”), the court of appeals agreed to consider it.
In Vasquez II, the court agreed to withdraw its Vasquez I opinion, but it then reached the same conclusion and rejected the cap under a different line of cases for the constitutional Remedies Clause (Section 10).
First, the court rejected plaintiff’s argument that the $500K cap was “facially invalid” under the Remedies Clause because it did provide some remedy. However, it then considered and approved of the plaintiff’s case-specific argument that the $500K cap violated the Remedies Clause because the cap would provide plaintiff with an “unconstitutionally insubstantial remedy”.
With very brief analysis, the court agreed that this capped amount would provide this plaintiff only a “paltry fraction” of his jury award, and so it found a violation of the Remedies Clause and rejected the cap. The court declined to get into an analysis about acceptable percentages or to draw any lines about when an application of a cap in this type of case would be constitutional. As a result, based on this discussion, it will give plaintiff’s lawyers an argument that any application of the cap would be unconstitutional in these kinds of cases.
Importantly, however, on pages 523-24, the court distinguished wrongful death claims (such as Griest) and Oregon Tort Claims Act cases (such as Horton) as requiring a different analysis, including for cases where there is a “quid pro quo” to the parties from the legislature within the larger statutory scheme, i.e., creating a claim for relief that did not previously exist and then setting maximum damages for it. As a result, Griest seems to remain good law that the cap continues to apply in wrongful death cases.