Articles Posted in Personal Injury

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The Oregon Supreme Court previously denied employer Shearer's Foods' petition for review in this workers’ compensation case, but addressed claimant William Hoffnagle's petition for an award of attorney fees for time that his counsel spent in response to employer’s unsuccessful petition for review. Employer objected that the Supreme Court lacked authority to award fees and also objects to the amount of requested fee. Although the Supreme Court often resolved attorney fee petitions by order rather than written opinion, employer’s objection to the Supreme Court's authority to award fees presented a legal issue that was appropriately resolved by opinion. Employer insisted the Oregon legislature had not authorized an award of fees for work that a claimant’s attorney performs in response to an unsuccessful petition for review; employer did not dispute that, after a series of amendments, ORS 656.386 specified a claimant who prevails against a denial was entitled to an award of attorney fees for work performed at every other stage of the case, including in the Supreme Court, if the Supreme Court addressed the merits of the case. "Employer offers no reason why the legislature would have intentionally created that one carve-out to what is otherwise a comprehensive authorization of fees when a claimant relies on counsel to finally prevail against the denial of a claim. Indeed, such a carve- out would be incompatible with what we have described as 'a broad statement of a legislative policy' reflected in ORS 656.386, 'that prevailing claimants’ attorneys shall receive reasonable compensation for their representation.'" The petition for attorney fees was allowed. Claimant was awarded $2,200 as attorney fees on review. View "Shearer's Foods v. Hoffnagle" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals certified a question of Oregon law to the Oregon Supreme Court. At issue is the correct interpretation of ORS 30.905(2), which placed limits on the time-frame for initiating a product liability civil action for personal injury or property damage. Oregon resident Aline Miller owned a Ford Escape, which was manufactured in June 2001 in the State of Missouri. The Escape was first sold to a consumer in September 2001. In May 2012, the Escape caught fire while parked in Miller’s garage, allegedly due to a faulty sensor in the engine compartment. The fire spread from Miller’s garage to her home, causing significant property damage. Miller also fractured her heel as she fled the fire. Oregon’s statute of repose for product liability actions provides that an action “must be commenced before the later of *** [t]en years after the date on which the product was first purchased *** or *** [t]he expiration of any statute of repose for an equivalent civil action in the state in which the product was manufactured.” ORS 30.905(2). The certified question asked if the state of manufacture had no statute of repose for actions equivalent to an Oregon product liability action, was a product liability action in Oregon subject to any statute of repose? The Oregon Court answered in the negative: under ORS 30.905(2), when an Oregon product liability action involves a product that was manufactured in a state that has no statute of repose for an equivalent civil action, then the action in Oregon also was not subject to a statute of repose. View "Miller v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Kerry and Scott Tomlinson (parents) and their son, T, brought separate negligence claims against defendants Mary K. Wagner, MD., Metropolitan Pediatrics, LLC, and Legacy Emanuel Hospital & Health Center. In their respective claims, plaintiffs alleged that defendants provided medical services to the parents’ older son, M, failed to timely diagnose M’s genetic disorder, and failed to inform the parents of that disorder. They further alleged that, “[h]ad defendants, and each of them, timely diagnosed [M’s] DMD, [the parents] would not have produced another child suffering from [DMD].” The trial court entered a judgment dismissing the complaint on the ground that neither the parents nor T were patients of defendants and, therefore, the court reasoned, defendants owed no obligation of professional care toward them. The Court of Appeals reversed that judgment as to the parents but affirmed as to T. The Oregon Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals, and reversed in part and affirmed in part the trial court judgment dismissing this action. Under the parents’ theory of relief, the relevant injury was not the resulting life, but the negligent deprivation of information that was important to the parents’ protected interest in making informed reproductive choices. T’s claim necessarily depended on the premise that T had a legally protected interest in not being born, rather than risk being born with DMD. "[T]he doctrinal implications of recognizing T’s right to recover such damages would be significant." The Court concluded the factual allegations were sufficient as to the parents' claim. With respect to T's claims, however, the Court determined the "threshold difficulty with T’s argument is that it puts the damages cart before the liability horse; that is, T’s argument blurs the line between the identification of a cognizable injury and the determination of damages resulting from the injury. . . based on the facts that T alleges, defendants could not have caused T a physical harm." View "Tomlinson v. Metropolitan Pediatrics, LLC" on Justia Law

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The issue before the Oregon Supreme Court in this matter was whether the Court of Appeals correctly construed the scope of ORS 656.019 in a case arising out of plaintiff’s attempt to allege civil negligence claims against his employer, defendant NuStar GP, LLC, for harm arising out of plaintiff’s exposure to gasoline vapors at work. The trial court denied plaintiff Danny Bundy’s motion to amend his complaint to allege those claims after concluding that the claims were barred by the so-called “exclusive remedy” provision of the Workers’ Compensation Law, ORS 656.018, a provision that generally immunizes employers from civil liability for injuries to a worker arising out of the worker’s employment. Plaintiff argued his negligence claims were not barred because they were allowed by ORS 656.019, a statute that governed negligence actions for an injury “that has been determined to be not compensable [under the Workers’ Compensation Law] because the worker has failed to establish that a work-related incident was the major contributing cause of the worker’s injury.” Although plaintiff alleged that he suffered from medical conditions that were determined to be “not compensable” under that major contributing cause standard, the trial court and Court of Appeals concluded that ORS 656.019 did not apply to plaintiff’s negligence action because the conditions on which plaintiff relied were denied after defendant accepted a compensable workers’ compensation claim for plaintiff’s initial condition arising out of the same workplace incident. The Oregon Supreme Court expressly reserved the comprehensive statutory analysis needed to resolve whether the legislature intended ORS 656.019 to function as a substantive exception to the exclusive remedy provision, and resolved only the single issue of statutory construction that was raised by the petition for review and argued by the parties. Because the parties assumed that ORS 656.019 would allow plaintiff to file his Fourth Amended Complaint if the statute applied to plaintiff’s negligence claims, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s denial of plaintiff’s motion to amend. “That limited holding is not intended to preclude these or future parties from properly presenting an argument that the legislature did not intend ORS 656.019 to function as a substantive exception to the exclusive remedy provision.” The decision of the Court of Appeals and the circuit court was reversed, and the case was remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings. View "Bundy v. NuStar GP, LLC" on Justia Law

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The question presented was whether Oregon law permitted a plaintiff, who suffered an adverse medical outcome resulting in physical harm, to state a common-law medical negligence claim by alleging that the defendant negligently caused a loss of his chance at recovery. The Oregon Supreme Court concluded, as a matter of first impression, that a medical negligence claim based on a loss-of-chance theory of injury in the circumstances presented was cognizable under Oregon common law. View "Smith v. Providence Health & Services" on Justia Law

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The issue in this workers’ compensation case was whether claimant was entitled to benefits for his “combined condition” claim. Claimant filed- and his employer’s insurer, SAIF Corporation, initially accepted-a claim for a lumbar strain combined with preexisting lumbar disc disease and related conditions. SAIF later denied the combined condition claim on the ground that the lumbar strain had ceased to be the major contributing cause of the combined condition. Claimant objected. He did not contest that his lumbar strain had ceased to be the major contributing cause of his combined condition. Instead, he argued that the otherwise compensable injury was not limited to the lumbar strain that SAIF had accepted as part of his combined condition claim. In claimant’s view, an “otherwise compensable injury” within the meaning of ORS 656.005(7)(a)(B) referred not just to the condition that SAIF accepted, but also includes any other conditions not accepted that might have resulted from the same work-related accident that caused the lumbar strain, and that larger group of work-related conditions continued to be the major contributing cause of his combined condition. As a result, claimant contended that an employer could not close a combined condition claim if any of those non accepted conditions remained the major cause of the combined condition claim. The Workers’ Compensation Board rejected claimant’s argument and upheld SAIF’s denial of claimant’s combined condition claim, concluding that existing precedent defined the “otherwise compensable injury” component of combined conditions to consist of the condition or conditions that the employer has accepted as compensable. The Court of Appeals reversed, acknowledging that its holding was “potentially at odds” with existing precedents from both that court and the Oregon Supreme Court. It nevertheless concluded that those precedents were either distinguishable or should be reconsidered. The Supreme Court concluded that the Court of Appeals erred and that the Workers’ Compensation Board was correct. View "Brown v. SAIF Corp." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sustained injuries while working for Union Pacific Railroad Company “as a spiker machine operator near Minidoka, Idaho.” Union Pacific’s decision to reduce “the spiker machine’s customary three-[person] crew to a two-[person] crew” placed greater physical demands on plaintiff, causing or contributing to the injuries he suffered. As a result of Union Pacific’s alleged negligent maintenance of the spiker machine and its decision to reduce the number of persons operating that machine, plaintiff suffered economic and noneconomic damages totaling approximately $615,000. The question this case presented was whether the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment permitted Oregon to exercise general jurisdiction over an interstate railroad for claims unrelated to the railroad’s activities in Oregon. The trial court ruled that it could exercise general jurisdiction over the railroad and denied the railroad’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s negligence action for lack of personal jurisdiction. After the railroad petitioned for a writ of mandamus, the Supreme Court issued an alternative writ to the trial court, which adhered to its initial ruling. After review, the Supreme Court held that due process did not permit Oregon courts to exercise general jurisdiction over the railroad. View "Barrett v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was working for BNSF Railway Company in Pasco, Washington, where she was repairing a locomotive engine. While she was reaching up to remove an engine part, the “portable stair supplied by [BNSF] rolled or kicked out from under [p]laintiff,” causing her to sustain substantial injuries. The question that this case presented was whether, by appointing a registered agent in Oregon, defendant (a foreign corporation) impliedly consented to have Oregon courts adjudicate any and all claims against it regardless of whether those claims have any connection to defendant’s activities in the state. Defendant moved to dismiss this action because the trial court lacked general jurisdiction over it. When the court denied the motion, defendant petitioned for an alternative writ of mandamus. The Oregon Supreme Court issued the writ, and held as a matter of state law, that the legislature did not intend that appointing a registered agent pursuant to ORS 60.731(1) would constitute consent to the jurisdiction of the Oregon courts. View "Figueroa v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs are brothers, aged eight and twelve, were crossing a street in a crosswalk with the walk signal with their seven-year-old younger brother. Defendant negligently drove his pickup truck through the crosswalk, running over the youngest boy and narrowly missing the other two. The brother who was struck died at the scene. The two surviving brothers witnessed their brother’s death and experienced serious emotional injuries as a result. This case tasked the Oregon Supreme Court to consider the circumstances, if any, under which damages could be recovered by a bystander who suffers serious emotional distress as a result of observing the negligent physical injury of another person. The trial court dismissed the action and the Court of Appeals affirmed, both relying on the “impact rule,” which allows a plaintiff to seek damages for negligently caused emotional distress only if the plaintiff can show some physical impact to himself or herself, thus precluding the claims brought by plaintiffs in this case. The Supreme Court concluded that plaintiffs should be able to pursue their claims notwithstanding the fact that they did not themselves suffer physical injury. The Court therefore reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals and the judgment of the circuit court, and remanded the case to the trial court. View "Philibert v. Kluser" on Justia Law