Yeatts v. Polygon Northwest Co.

June 30, 2017 | By Pickett Dummigan LLP

Arthur Yeatts was a construction worker, working on a third-story sheet rock project, when a guard rail gave way. Yeatts fell 19 feet to the ground below. He sustained multiple head injuries as well as fracturing his arm and wrist. He required significant medical care and lost substantial wages and earning capacity. Yeatts sued the general contractor on the project, alleging that Polygon Northwest had violated Oregon’s Employer Liability Law (ELL), leading to his injury. The ELL requires that all employers and owners who have responsibility for a dangerous workplace must do everything practical—without regard to cost—to protect the workers on the job site.

Polygon asked the court to find in its favor prior to a jury trial, arguing that it didn’t have responsibility for the dangerous workplace. Pickett Dummigan McCall Attorneys J. Randolph Pickett & R. Brendan Dummigan, along with Scott Supperstein of the Law Office of Scott Supperstein and Jeffrey Bowersox of Bowersox Law Firm PC, argued that, as general contractor, Polygon was indeed responsible for the workplace, and should not be allowed to delegate that responsibility away by calling itself a “Project Manager.” The trial court agreed with Polygon, granting summary judgment. Yeatts appealed.

The Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court, so Attorney Pickett argued the case in front of the Oregon Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Arthur Yeatts, changing Oregon law in the process. Previously, the courts would refuse to hold a general contractor responsible if they could not be shown to have created the dangerous condition which injured the plaintiff. The Supreme Court recognized that this represents an unfair ability of those who take responsibility over workplaces to escape the ramifications of their responsibility.