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Inside the Measure 35 debate: Sides cite conflicting research

Both sides have marshaled reams of evidence to support their stance on Measure 35. They also have spent time analyzing the other side's documentation and found it wanting.

Opponents of the measure, for example, cite a study that shows malpractice rates increase faster in states with caps on damage awards than in states without caps. Measure supporters say a federal study arrives at the opposite conclusion.

Opponents say high malpractice rates have not deterred doctors from coming to Oregon. They cite a study that indicates the number of physicians actually rose between 2000 and 2003, even as malpractice rates skyrocketed. Supporters of the measure say that study is flawed because it counted licensed physicians but failed to note whether they were actually practicing.

Some physicians hold licenses in several states, supporters note, or keep their license current soon after they retire in case they want to return to practice.

The sums at stake in Measure 35 explain the resources that have been committed to the election campaign. Insurance companies paid out more than &

36;175 million in malpractice settlements during the period 1999-2003 and spent &

36;53 million defending lawsuits, according to data provided by the Oregon Medical Association and Northwest Physicians Mutual Insurance.

During the same period, insurers paid just &

36;35 million in malpractice cases that went to trial. In those 24 cases, juries awarded &

36;15.5 million in economic damages and &

36;19.5 million in noneconomic damages.

— Of those cases, only seven had damage awards that exceeded the proposed cap, but those awards totaled &

36;12.9 million, almost 37 percent of all the damages that were awarded in jury trials.

Jackson County had several big-dollar malpractice cases inthose years. In June 1999, Rogue Valley Medical Center agreed to pay &

36;10 million to settle a malpractice lawsuit filed by the family of Morgan Smith.

In April 2000, a jury awarded a &

36;10 million judgment in a suit filed against Dr. Walter Carlini and Rogue Valley Medical Center.

In March 2001, a jury awarded Laurie Wooding of Medford &

36;3.07 million after it determined that the Medford Clinic and one of its nurse practitioners were negligent by failing to make a timely diagnosis of Wooding's breast cancer despite Wooding's requests for tests.