Oregon Legislature mugs workers widows and their children too

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Posted by Chip on June 03, 1999 at 13:46:52:

House votes to cap pain and suffering damages in workplace deaths

The Associated Press
6/3/99 4:29 AM


Associated Press Writer

SALEM, Ore. (AP) -- The Oregon House has voted to clamp a $500,000 limit on so-called pain and suffering damages in some lawsuits involving workplace deaths.

Backers of the bill said it would bring the employer liability law in line with the current $500,000 ceiling on pain and suffering compensation in other kinds of injury cases.

But foes said the bill, which was sent to the Senate on a 39-21 vote Wednesday, is unfair to survivors of workers whose deaths result from employers' negligence.

The bill is aimed at lawsuits claiming negligence by third-party employers, since claims involving injuries or deaths against a worker's immediate employer are covered by the no-fault workers' compensation system.

An example would be allegations of safety violations against a contractor by survivors of a subcontractor's employee. The third-party claims often involve high-risk construction work.

As it now stands, unlimited pain and suffering damages in cases involving workplace deaths has resulted in large awards that have driven up employers' insurance costs and reduced availability of coverage, backers said.

"This is a reasonable limit that puts workers in the same position as other Oregonians who are injured," said Rep. Bill Witt, R-Portland.

He said the bill puts no restrictions on the wide range of economic damages that survivors can seek, including compensation for lost earnings and medical expenses.

But opponents of the measure denounced it as unfair.

"This is a bill against widows and orphans," said Rep. Vicki Walker, D-Eugene.

She said the employer liability law that was passed by voters in 1911 as an initiative measure is meant to help survivors of workers whose jobs are so risky that some can't even buy life insurance.

Rep. Judy Uherbelau, D-Ashland, said reducing damage limits isn't likely to encourage employers to improve safety practices.

"If anything, this will increase violations. Get real," she said.

The measure also would change a legal standard to prevent a worker from collecting any damages if a court found the worker mostly, but not necessarily completely, at fault in an accident.

That's the standard now in other kinds of injury lawsuits.

Under the present employer liability law, if a jury found a worker 90 percent at fault for an injury, the worker still would collect 10 percent of the total damages.

The bill number is HB3605.

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