Damages (2016 Revision): Later, but Better

by Dean Land, Legal Publications Attorney Editor

During our editing process here in the OSB Legal Publications Department, it’s not uncommon for the Oregon appellate courts to issue an opinion that affects the book that we’re working on. Sometimes, the effect is limited to a minor issue in one or two chapters. Other times, the effect is much broader (like when State v. Gaines, 346 Or 160 (2009), came down just as we were finishing Interpreting Oregon Law). Although it may delay publication, we’d much rather have such a case come down during the editing process than after we go to print. That way, instead of having a book that is immediately outdated, we can make the required edits and provide the Bar an up-to-date legal resource.

As we approach our deadline for the 2016 edition of Damages, the Oregon Supreme Court has indulged us once again, this time by issuing its opinion in Horton v. OHSU, 359 Or 168 (May 5, 2016). In a lengthy decision (140 pages in the Advance Sheets, including concurring and dissenting opinions), the court altered its interpretation of two provisions of the Oregon Constitution and, in doing so, overruled two significant prior decisions.

Before Horton, the court’s analysis of the Remedy Clause of Article I, section 10, was governed by Smothers v. Gresham Transfer, Inc., 332 Or 83 (2001). Under Smothers, the court asked whether Oregon common law, as it stood in 1857 (when the Oregon Constitution was drafted), recognized a cause of action for the plaintiff’s alleged injury. If so, then the Remedy Clause required a constitutionally adequate remedy for that injury. Horton overruled Smothers and disavowed the bright-line rule that protected common-law causes of action that existed in 1857 but offered no protection for causes of action that did not exist in 1857. In place of the Smothers methodology, the court created a framework that considers “the extent to which the legislature [in altering a common-law remedy] has departed from the common-law model measured against its reasons for doing so.” Horton, 359 Or at 220.

Horton also changed the analysis of Article I, section 17, which protects the right to a jury trial in civil cases. Under Lakin v. Senco Products, Inc., 329 Or 62, modified, 329 Or 369 (1999), if Oregon common law in 1857 recognized a cause of action, then Article I, section 17, prevented the trial court from reducing a jury verdict. Thus statutory caps on damages, such as those of the Oregon Tort Claims Act, were inapplicable to those causes of action. Horton overruled Lakin, deciding instead that Article I, section 17, guarantees only a procedural right to a jury for causes of action recognized by Oregon common law in 1857. It does not impose any substantive limits on the legislature’s authority to limit damages for a claim.

Horton affected seven chapters in Damages and required a bit of scrambling on our part. Our in-house editors read the opinion, revised the affected chapters, and sent them back to the authors and the editorial review board for approval and any additional changes. (One exasperated author commented that Horton came down just as he was beginning to understand Smothers.) In the end, though, the new edition of Damages will be more helpful to practitioners because it includes the changes wrought by Horton. Thanks to all our authors and the editorial review board for the extra effort!

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