Rains v. Stayton Builders Mart

June 23, 2017 | By R. Brendan Dummigan of Pickett Dummigan LLP

Kevin Rains was a construction worker injured when a board sold by Stayton Builders Mart, and constructed by Weyerhauser, broke underneath him. After a trial handled by Pickett Dummigan McCall attorney J. Randolph Pickett and Brian Whitehead of the Law Offices of Brian Whitehead, a jury awarded Kevin Rains $7 million in economic and non-economic damages, to be paid in part by each defendant. Weyerhauser moved to reduce the non-economic award to $500,000 on each claim, citing a law which purports to limit jury awards for non-economic damages. That motion was denied on the basis that the law violated the plaintiff’s rights under the Oregon Constitution. Weyerhauser appealed to the Oregon Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s ruling in part. The foundation of its ruling was its view that Oregon law required it to split legal claims into two categories: The first category is those which were available to a plaintiff at the time of the adoption of the Oregon Constitution in 1857. This category includes claims like negligence and intentional injury. The second category is types of claims which have arisen since the Oregon Constitution was adopted. Some examples of claims in this category are wrongful death and products liability. As the Court of Appeals saw it, any claim in this category would not be protected by the Constitution.

Kevin Rains’s claim, based on the manufacturing and marketing of a defective product, was a claim that became available in the 20th Century. Therefore, the Court of Appeals thought, the Constitution does not protect it from a reduction. The Court reversed the decision of the trial court, and directed that the judgment be reduced. Kevin Rains appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court.

With the help of PD’s Randy Pickett, Attorney Maureen Leonard argued to the Supreme Court that this distinction was doing an injustice to injured people in Oregon. In the modern world, a person’s ability to receive justice should not be based on whether the injury he or she receives is one that was common at a time when Oregon was still the wild west. The Oregon Constitution should protect all Oregonians, not just those with certain types of injuries.

After the argument in the case, but before the Supreme Court issued its ruling, the Supreme Court issued a different ruling that seemed to agree. Kevin Rains’s attorneys filed a supplemental brief arguing that the Supreme Court’s decision in Horton v. OHSU made the way clear for the Constitution to protect people with product claims like this one. The Supreme Court agreed that the Court of Appeals should reconsider its decision with this new understanding, and sent the case back down for that purpose. Kevin Rains, along with his wife Mitzi, currently await that decision.

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