Case Summaries

Rains v. Stayton Builders Mart

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 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.

Piazza v. Kellim

Martha Paz de Noboa Delgado was a 17-year-old exchange student visiting the Portland area from Peru. One night she went with friends downtown to Portland to visit an underage nightclub called the Zone. She was not allowed into the club right away, and was required to line up outside on the sidewalk. While she waited, a man named Erik Ayala walked up to the line and opened fire, killing Martha and another teenager. Ayala then shot himself and died soon afterwards. On behalf of Patricia Piazza, the personal representative of Martha’s estate, Pickett Dummigan attorneys J. Randolph Pickett, R. Brendan Dummigan, Kristen West McCall, and Kimberly O. Weingart, along with Benjamin Grandy of the Law Office of Benjamin B. Grandy PC, filed suit against several parties, including the owners of the Zone nightclub and the coordinators of the exchange student program.

The defendants moved the trial court to dismiss the case before any evidence was developed, arguing that there was no way for the plaintiff to show that any of them could be held responsible for Martha’s death. The trial court agreed. Oregon law provides that a defendant can be held responsible for its negligent actions only if the harm those actions cause is foreseeable, and the trial court agreed with the defendants that Martha’s death was unforeseeable. Martha’s estate appealed.

Randy Pickett argued in front of the Court of Appeals, and later in front of the Oregon Supreme Court, that Martha’s death was foreseeable. The Zone was located in an area of Portland which had been identified by the Portland Police as being a high-crime area. Previous nightclub shootings had put the defendants on notice that this was a risk they took if they forced teenagers to line up on the street. Especially considering the fact that Martha was a child, the defendants could reasonably have foreseen that she might be injured or killed under the circumstances, and a jury should decide whether the defendants should be held responsible.

The Oregon Supreme Court agreed with Attorney Pickett and the other attorneys for the estate. The defendants had argued that the nature of Martha’s death was so random and unexpected as to be unforeseeable, no matter what the neighborhood was like. The Supreme Court disagreed with that, finding that it is the type of injury which is reasonably foreseeable that is important, not the exact injury.

Yeatts v. Polygon Northwest Co.

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 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.

Cortez v. Nacco Material Handling Group, Inc.

Antonio Cortez was a mill worker, working for Sun Studs LLC, a limited liability company. Cortez was on the night shift when a co-worker, driving a Hyster forklift, backed into him, dragging him for a long distance and causing catastrophic injuries. The forklift was not equipped with a backup warning signal which would have warned Cortez that he was in danger. He brought a claim against several defendants, including the manufacturer and distributor of the forklifts, as well as his employer’s owner, Swanson Group, Inc.

In Oregon, the worker’s compensation laws preclude a worker from suing his or her employer under all but a few limited circumstances. This prohibition extends to owners and officers of corporations. This prohibition makes it very difficult for an injured worker to receive full compensation when his or her employer is negligent. However, Pickett Dummigan attorneys J. Randolph Pickett, R. Brendan Dummigan, and Kristen West McCall, along with Peter O. Hansen of the Law Offices of Peter Hansen, and Robert K. Udziela, argued that the Oregon legislature had not specified that the owner of a limited liability company should be provided the same protection as a corporation’s owner.

The Court of Appeals, followed by the Oregon Supreme Court, agreed with that argument. The law did not protect certain types of LLC owners from liability for actions taken by their subsidiaries, and the case was permitted to go to trial. The Oregon legislature immediately moved to close what is saw as a loophole regarding limited liability companies. At the same time, however, they clarified the law to expand the circumstances under which injured workers can receive full compensation from officers, directors, and managers of their employers. The Cortez case was a victory for Oregon workers who are injured in the future.

Towe v. Sacagawea, Inc.

Billie Towe was a resident of rural Jackson County, driving on a forest public access road for pleasure, but also to look for real estate that he had reason to believe was for sale in the area. After the access road was a privately-owned road, one which Towe had travelled before. However, on this day, the owner of the road had strung a cable across the road—to block access—but had not marked the cable to warn drivers or riders that it was there. Towe was going close to 25 mph when he hit the cable, causing his motorcycle to “slingshot” back and causing severe injuries.

Towe sued, among others, the owners of the private road. Represented by Pickett Dummigan McCall attorneys J. Randolph Pickett and R. Brendan Dummigan, along with Mark L. Webb of the Law Offices of Mark L. Webb, P.C., Towe argued that the landowner was responsible to anyone who came onto the property to avoid injuring them. Either the landowner should have not hung the cable, or should have marked the cable with warning devises or signs, to keep from causing an injury like the one that happened to Mr. Towe.

The landowner argued two things: First, that it had no responsibility to Mr. Towe at all, since Mr. Towe had not been directly invited to come onto private property; second, that even if it had responsibility to him, that it didn’t matter because Mr. Towe had caused his own injuries by failing to pay attention. The trial court agreed with the second argument, and found against Mr. Towe. Attorneys Pickett and Dummigan, along with Kristen West McCall and Kimberly O. Weingart and Robert K. Udziela appealed Mr. Towe’s case to the Oregon Court of Appeals, which agreed with the trial court’s decision, giving the reason that Mr. Towe had technically been a trespasser, and that the landowner was not responsible to Mr. Towe.

The Oregon Supreme Court disagreed with the Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court agreed that the road was private property. But the Supreme Court also recognized that a road which is often open to public use—as this one was—invites people to drive on it. Moreover, when it is not completely clear to a driver where the public road ends and the private one begins, a landowner does have a responsibility to the public to avoid punishing those who stray onto private land by injuring them.

Garcia v. Dawson Construction LLC

Paul v. American Safety Indemnity Company

Sussan v. Polk County

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