A Bill in the Oregon Senate Would Make Accident Victims “Whole” on Insurance Payments

A Portland mother has spent years researching insurance-company practices after her son's death.

Seamus DuBarry

As the Legislature moves into full swing for the 2019 session, Senate Bill 421 is our first "Bill of the Week."

Here are the particulars:

What problem it would solve:  In 2010, Michelle DuBarry's husband, Eric, and their son, Seamus, then 22 months old, were struck by a car in a North Portland crosswalk. Seamus died the next day. The DuBarry family's health insurance covered most of Seamus' $180,000 hospital bill, but they faced out-of-pocket deductibles and subsequent expenses for missed work and therapy. What they found when they received a settlement from the driver's auto insurance, however, was that under Oregon law, their health insurance company was entitled to recoup its expenses before they received anything, under a legal concept known as "subrogation."
DuBarry, 43, who has spent years researching the practice, says Oregon is one of only a handful of states that allow health insurers to collect settlements before injured parties are fully compensated. "In cases where hospital stays are involved," she says, "there is almost never money left over for victims."

What the bill would do: It would match the laws in many other states, where the injured party can be "made whole" for all damages, including pain and suffering, from the at-fault party's insurance before the injured party's medical insurer gets paid. "It's simply not fair to allow health insurance companies, who are paid monthly premiums to insure Oregonians, to take the pain and suffering awards from victims of auto accidents," says Sen. Frederick. "I want accident victims to receive what they are due first."

Who supports it: Victims' rights advocates; trial lawyers.

Who is against it: Health insurers are likely to oppose it. But the bill is still awaiting a first hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, so the insurers haven't taken a public position yet.

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