Battle Brews over Measure 81

Author Subject: Battle Brews over Measure 81
webmaster Posted At 12:49:33 02/29/2000
Fight brews over civil suit

Measure 81, which is on the May ballot, would allow
the Legislature to impose limits on the damages that
juries may give

Tuesday, February 29, 2000

By Ashbel S. Green of The Oregonian staff

Immense. Enormous. Huge.

Hyperbole is typical during elections, but such descriptions
may appropriately describe the looming fight over a
little-known measure on the May ballot that would allow the
Legislature to limit the damages juries award in civil suits.

Although it has received little public attention, Measure 81
has attracted long lists of powerful supporters and
opponents, from businesses and the insurance industry to
trial lawyers and unions. The two sides are expected to
spend a total of about $5 million, which would make it one
of the most expensive initiative campaigns in Oregon

For supporters, Measure 81 is a necessary response to a
1999 Oregon Supreme Court decision that they claim was
the first step toward dismantling dozens of laws designed to
protect doctors, businesses and others from unfair lawsuits
and crippling damage awards.

"The ramifications are just huge, immense," said Mark W.
Nelson, a lobbyist for several businesses that support the

Opponents, however, say Measure 81 is a power grab that
allows the Legislature to protect special economic interests
at the expense of injured people.

"It is such a broadly defined measure that the stakes are
enormous," said Jeffrey P. Foote, a Portland plaintiff's

Most voters probably have never heard of Measure 81, but
they will soon, Nelson said.

"It is not on the general public's radar screen and won't be
until $3 million from each side is coming straight at them,"
he said.

Politically, Measure 81 is a response to a Supreme Court
ruling last year that overturned a law that capped
noneconomic damages, typically pain and suffering, at

The ruling, which came near the end of the 1999 legislative
session, spooked lobbyists who represent doctors, insurers
and the business community. They feared the ruling's broad
language strongly suggests that the court would overturn
other laws designed to protect their clients from what they
say are unfair suits and outrageous damage awards.

Concerns over undoing other laws
Specifically, Measure 81 supporters say the ruling clearly
threatens a variety of laws limiting punitive damages. Also
at risk, they say, are laws involving public employee liability,
the crime victims' compensation account, uninsured and
impaired drivers and more.

C. Scott R. Gallant, lobbyist for the Oregon Medical
Association, said the loss of such laws would cost
businesses and insurers hundreds of millions of dollars that
would be passed along to consumers in the form of higher
premiums and reduced services.

For example, Gallant said, before the Legislature approved
the cap on non-economic damages in 1987, some doctors
refused to perform high-risk procedures because of
expensive malpractice insurance premiums.

"That is what happens when it becomes prohibitive to
afford insurance," he said.

In response, the Legislature approved Measure 81, which
would add "a new constitutional provision expressly
allowing the Legislature to impose limits on damages that
may be recovered in any civil action," according to the
ballot summary.

The idea is to prevent future challenges of laws that limit
lawsuits and allow the Legislature to re-enact the cap on
noneconomic damages.

But as much as supporters say they need the broad
language of Measure 81, opponents say they fear it.

Foote said it would open the door for all sorts of caps and
immunities for special interests.

"The sky's the limit," he said.

Arwen Bird, who was paralyzed when a drunken driver
crashed into her car, said juries -- not legislators -- should
decide how much she and other victims deserve.

"This constitutional amendment will greatly curtail the rights
of not only survivors but all Oregonians to receive fair
compensation for their injuries," said Bird, who co-founded
a victims' rights group called Survivors Advocating For an
Effective System.

Division along partisan lines
For the most part, Measure 81 divides along familiar
partisan lines, with most Republicans supporting it and most
Democrats opposing it. But the two sides also are amassing
lengthy lists of supporters. Backers include hospitals,
restaurants, contractors, sheriffs, timber companies,
insurance companies, doctors, small businesses and a
number of elected and civic leaders.

In addition to trial lawyers, opponents include unions,
environmentalists, senior citizens, consumers and groups
advocating for the disabled, gays and lesbians and tenants.

Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat and a doctor, has not
taken a position on the measure.

Although campaign strategies remain closely guarded,
documents give a glimpse about how each side intends to
appeal to voters.

A letter urging businesses to sign up in support of Measure
81 says a "yes" vote will "close the lawyers' loophole."

The opponents' campaign is "trust juries, not politicians."

"It's somewhat of a campaign by characterization," said
Len Bergstein, president of Northwest Strategies, a public
affairs consulting firm that is not working for either side.

Chuck Bennett, a lobbyist and political operative who is not
connected with either side, said he had heard a lot of talk
about the campaign. He said he expects emotional ads on
both sides that will leave voters thinking they have to
choose between paying high insurance premiums and being
left without a remedy if they're involved in a horrible

"What the public gets stuck with is, 'Is it my insurance
premium?' or is it, 'Will I be left penniless and homeless and
friendless after losing my arm in a burger machine?' " he

You can reach Ashbel S. Green at 503-221-8202 or by
e-mail at
Advocate Re: Battle Brews over Measure 81 (Currently 0 replies)
Posted At 13:00:12 03/03/2000

Measure 81 is an Associated Oregon Industries funded measure.
Perhaps getting help by Saif Corp. Like I have said in the past about the smothers case
Oregon has been working in the background for a long time trying to protect
the business climate.

Opponents, however, say Measure 81 is a power grab that
allows the Legislature to protect special economic interests
at the expense of injured people. notice the Oregonians attempt not to say
Injured workers. This measure is hypocritical and a contradiction in terms.

This measure will be the most expensive measure to fight and support in Oregons
history, 5 million on both sides. although Saif Corp will remain quiet
for now, they also have a vested interest in the passage of this measure.
AOI also has alot to lose by the dividens that it recieves from saif corp
by having low cost claims and Injured workers suing their member business.

katpaw Re: Battle Brews over Measure 81 (Currently 0 replies)
Posted At 11:25:51 03/06/2000

is this a nationwide battle or is it only related to oregon at this election?
Advocate Re: Battle Brews over Measure 81 (Currently 0 replies)
Posted At 00:22:57 03/10/2000

Thsi measure is only in Oregon

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