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The Horton family of Multnomah County was surely reeling after the initial determination that their 9 month old son, Tyson Horton, would need surgery on his liver to remove a cancerous growth. You can only imagine the horror of finding out that the doctors at OHSU, the trusted health care providers of their boy, caused more damage by cutting blood vessels near the liver that should not have been cut at all. Even after the doctors had to scramble to save his life, young Tyson came out of surgery requiring a liver transplant, more than a half dozen additional surgeries, and living with the very real possibility of having the whole nightmare repeat itself at any time if the donor liver were to be rejected.

On the liability issue the facts presented a slam dunk case against the hospital as OSHU admitted that their doctors were negligent in Tyson’s surgery. The jury agreed and granted a $12 million verdict in favor of the Hortons, who owe over $3 million in doctor’s bills alone.  Everything seems to point to the Hortons having some modicum of recovery for the pain, suffering, and economic damages caused by OHSU.  However, due to Oregon law, it isn’t absolutely clear how much the hospital, a public entity, will have to pay.

According to the Oregon Tort Claims Act, the $12 million verdict exceeds a cap which limits how much OHSU and other public entities must pay for employees’ negligence causing personal injury or death. The hospital just so happens to have a limit at $3 million, which they have gladly offered to pay the Hortons.  The Horton’s lawyer, Robert Wagner, claims that the willingness to pay $3 million is actually OHSU hiding behind the cap since they were much more negligent than the mere $3 million they offered. Mr. Wagner and the Hortons are bringing the case to the Oregon Supreme Court who will then decide the constitutionality of the cap.  The Hortons could certainly use some good news, especially little Tyson, who is now 4 years old and will have to live with the after effects of OHSU’s negligence for possibly the rest of his life.