Category Archives: Negligence

The MMTJA and the Battle to Establish General Personal Jurisdiction in Foreign Aviation Disasters

Scott Brooksby wrote the following article, which was published in the American Bar Association’s Mass Torts Summer newsletter:

The MMTJA and the Battle to Establish General Personal Jurisdiction in Foreign Aviation Disasters

By Scott Brooksby – June 21, 2016

Foreign aviation disasters very often result in litigation in the United States. Many cases arising from foreign crashes brought by foreign plaintiffs against foreign defendants are dismissed based on forum non conveniens. However, a recent case decided under the Multiparty, Multiforum Trial Jurisdiction Act (MMTJA), 28 U.S.C. § 1369, illustrates the exacting standard for establishing general personal jurisdiction in foreign aviation disasters when plaintiffs seek to litigate in the United States, even when national service of process is permitted. Siswanto v. Airbus S.A.S., 2015 WL 9489952 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 30, 2015).

The Montreal Convention
Before considering the MMTJA in the context of an aviation disaster, it is important to recall that claims against air carriers, in contrast to claims against manufacturers, are governed by the Montreal Convention. The Montreal Convention of 1999 was ratified by the United States in September 2003 and went into effect in November 2003. It limits the forums in which foreign plaintiffs can file lawsuits against air carriers. The Montreal Convention is a successor to the Warsaw Convention of 1929 and, in addition to important new provisions, consolidates and clarifies prior provisions of the Warsaw Convention. Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air, opened for Signature at Montreal on 28 May 1999, ICAO Doc. No. 4698 [hereinafter Montreal Convention].

The Montreal Convention applies to “all international carriage of persons, baggage or cargo performed by aircraft for reward.” Montreal Convention, supra, art. 1 § 1. When the Montreal Convention governs, damages provided under the convention are the only remedy available to foreign plaintiffs against a carrier. In El Al Israel Airlines v. Tseng, 525 U.S. 155 (1999), the Court held that personal injury claims arising from aircraft operations within the scope of the convention are not allowed unless permitted under the terms of the convention. Id. at 176. In light of the holding in Tseng, other federal courts have held that the damages available under the convention are the sole cause of action. See, e.g., Ugaz v. Am. Airlines, 576 F. Supp. 2d 1354 (S.D. Fla. 2008).

For purposes of forum non conveniens motions, Article 33 of the Montreal Convention provides that there are five forums in which a plaintiff may bring claims against a carrier:

1. the domicile of the carrier;

2. the principal place of business of the carrier;

3. the place where the airline ticket was purchased;

4. the place of destination; and,

5. in personal injury cases, the principal and permanent place of residence of the plaintiff

The so-called fifth jurisdiction, the plaintiff’s principal and permanent place of residence, was added by the Montreal Convention and expanded on the Warsaw Convention provisions governing proper forums. Under the Montreal Convention, the principal and permanent residence is the “one fixed and permanent abode of the passenger at the time of the accident.” Montreal Convention, supra, art. 33 § 3(b).

Under the fifth jurisdiction principle, a plaintiff may bring the lawsuit for personal injuries in the forum in which he or she has his or her principal and permanent place of residence, and to or from which the carrier operates flights, and in which the carrier leases or owns commercial premises by itself or by another carrier with which it has a commercial agreement. A “commercial agreement” means an agreement made between carriers and related to joint service of passengers by air. Montreal Convention, supra, art. 33 § 3(a).

The MMTJA and Foreign Aviation Disasters
Although the Warsaw and Montreal Conventions addressed many aspect of air crash litigation, they did not specifically address U.S. federal court handling of mass disaster litigation, and they addressed only aviation-related cases against carriers. In 2002, the MMTJA was enacted to create greater efficiency in disaster cases in the federal system. The MMTJA grants district courts original jurisdiction where minimal jurisdictional requirements are met and where the cases arise out of a “single accident, where at least 75 natural persons have died in the accident at a discrete location[.]” 28 U.S.C. § 1369(a). The permissible lawsuits include both wrongful death and personal injury.

The first case arising under the MMTJA was the Station nightclub fire in West Warwick, Rhode Island, on November 20, 2003, in which 100 people were killed and 230 injured. Lawsuits were filed throughout New England in state and federal courts. Passa v. Derderian, 308 F. Supp. 2d 43 (D.R.I. 2004).

The MMTJA widely broadens federal jurisdiction in mass disaster cases and provides that the district courts will have original jurisdiction wher

(1) a defendant resides in a State and a substantial part of the accident took place in another State or other location, regardless of whether that defendant is also a resident of the State where a substantial part of the accident took place;

(2) any two defendants reside in different States, regardless of whether such defendants are also residents of the same State or States; or

(3) substantial parts of the accident took place in different States.

28 U.S.C. § 1369(a)(1)–(3).

Under the MMTJA, “minimal diversity” exists between adverse parties if any party is a citizen of a state and any adverse party is a citizen of another state or a foreign state. Corporations are deemed to be a citizen of any state in which it is incorporated, or has its principal place of business, and is deemed to be a resident of any state in which it is licensed to do business or is doing business. 28 U.S.C. § 1369(c)(1)–(2). The district courts must abstain from hearing any action in which the “substantial majority” of all plaintiffs are citizens of a single state in which the primary defendants are also citizens, and from hearing any claims that are governed primarily by state law. 28 U.S.C. § 1369 (b)(1)–(2). Therefore, the MMTJA provisions providing for removal are much broader than the diversity jurisdiction requirements under 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

Siswanto v. Airbus S.A.S., 2015 WL 9489952 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 30, 2015), arose from the December 28, 2014, crash of Air Asia Flight No. 8501, an Airbus A320-216 flying from Indonesia to Singapore. During flight, a rudder system malfunctioned. Subsequent miscommunication between the pilots and a crew member’s removal of a circuit breaker disengaged the autopilot and caused the plane to roll and enter a prolonged stall before crashing into the Java Sea. All 155 passengers and 7 crewmembers were killed. The investigation was handled by the Indonesia National Transportation Safety Committee, which released its final report on December 1, 2015. Komite Nasional Keselamatan Transportasi, Republic of Indonesia, Final Aircraft Accident Investigative Report (2015).

The heirs and personal representatives of the deceased brought product liability and negligence claims against several defendants, including Airbus. Airbus moved to dismiss for lack of minimum contacts under the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause. The plaintiffs proceeded only under a theory of general personal jurisdiction arising from Airbus’s extensive contacts with the United States as a whole.

The court reasoned that because the case was brought under the MMTJA, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(k)(l)(C) and the MMTJA enabled the court to consider Airbus’s contacts with the United States as a whole, and not just with the state of Illinois. However, nothing in the statutes overrode Airbus’s constitutional due process protections governing the court’s exercise of personal jurisdiction. Siswanto, 2015 WL 9489952, at *1.

Early in its jurisdictional analysis, the court noted that despite the geographic expansion of service and, in turn, the initial scope of personal jurisdiction, Rule 4(k)(1)(C) and section 1697 do not override the controlling constitutional limitations of the court’s exercise of general or specific personal jurisdiction imposed by the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. Siswanto, 2015 WL 9489952, at *2 (citing KM Enters., Inc. v. Global Traffic Techs., Inc., 725 F.3d 718, 723, 730–31 (7th Cir. 2013)). The court noted that the traditional “minimum contacts” test from International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945),still governs even when the basis of personal jurisdiction involves a statute providing for nationwide service of process. Siswanto, 2015 WL 9489952, at *2.

Judge Blakey reasoned that when defendants are domiciled in the United States, the due process analysis under a nationwide service of process is straightforward. Because domestic companies and individuals “almost by definition” have minimum contacts with the United States, there may be general personal jurisdiction in any federal court in the country.Id. at *3.

The court noted that because Airbus is not a domestic company, the plaintiffs must show its contacts with the United States are sufficient to support either general or specific jurisdiction, and that general personal jurisdiction required “continuous and systematic general business contacts” such that Airbus is “essentially at home in the forum,” here, the United States as a whole, and not just the state of Illinois. Id. at *4 (citing Abelesz v. OTP Bank, 692 F.3d 638, 654, 656 (7th Cir. 2012)). The court concluded that, under Abelesz, the court’s inquiry is not whether Airbus’s contacts with the forum are simply “extensive in the aggregate.” Id. at *3 (internal citations omitted).

There was no dispute that Airbus was incorporated and had its principal place of business in France. For at least the five previous years, Airbus had not maintained any offices or employees or owned or rented property in the United States. All manufacturing on the aircraft occurred in Europe, and none of Airbus’s subsidiaries in the United States undertook this work. The A320-216 had been issued a type certificate by the European Safety Agency but not by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The aircraft was sold to Air Asia Berhad, a Malaysian airline carrier that did not operate in the United States, and the aircraft had never been flown in the United States. Id. at *2.

The plaintiffs argued that four categories of contacts between Airbus and the United States warranted the court’s exercise of general personal jurisdiction. First, the plaintiffs pointed to aircraft sales in the United States, which amounted to 811 aircraft, or 6.73 percent of Airbus’s sales. The court rejected this argument, ruling that none of the sales gave rise to the crash, and noted that the Supreme Court has instructed that imputing general personal jurisdiction from a defendant’s sales in the forum, even if sizable, would stretch general personal jurisdiction beyond its reach. Id. at *4 (citing Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S. Ct. 746, 760–62 (2014)).

Second, the plaintiffs argued that Airbus spends 42 percent of its aircraft-related procurement in the United States. The court also rejected this argument, stating that mere purchases, “even if occurring at regular intervals,” do not establish general personal jurisdiction when the underlying cause of action is not related to those purchases. Id. (citingHelicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 418 (1984)); accordDaimler, 134 S. Ct. at 757.

Third, the plaintiffs argued that contacts from Airbus’s “separately incorporated” subsidiaries should be imputed to Airbus because they maintained a physical presence in the United States. The court rejected this argument on the basis that the general rule is that jurisdiction contacts of a subsidiary are not imputed to the parent. Id. (citing Abelesz, 692 F.3d at 658–59 (internal citations omitted)).

Fourth, the plaintiffs cited a 2006 article showing that the FAA certified another aircraft model, the Airbus A380. The court also rejected this argument, finding that the isolated fact of the certification of another model aircraft had no special significance as far as personal jurisdiction is concerned. Id.

Having rejected the plaintiffs’ jurisdictional arguments, Judge Blakey turned to the plaintiffs’ alternative argument that venue in the Northern District of Illinois was proper because at least one other defendant, Motorola, resided in that district. The court rejected that argument, noting that establishing venue does not establish jurisdiction and that there was no legal basis for the court to conflate jurisdiction and venue. Id. at *6.

Thus, on December 30, 2015, the court granted Airbus S.A.S.’s Rule 12(b)(2) motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. In doing so, the court rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that dismissing Airbus would set the dangerous precedent of effectively exempting Airbus from the MMTJA. The court reasoned that “[a]lthough Airbus’ contacts with the United States may have been extensive, plaintiffs have fallen far short of showing the de factorelocation that the Supreme Court has required for a foreign corporate defendant to satisfy general personal jurisdiction.” Id. at *5 (emphasis in original).

Conclusion
The significance of Siswanto and the MMTJA is that jurisdiction is analyzed on a nationwide basis, and not merely on a state-by-state basis or by looking at any particular state. Airbus’s contacts with Illinois or any other individual state are not discussed. Therefore, under the MMTJA, the court could have found that if Airbus was subject to jurisdiction in any state, jurisdiction would have been proper in Illinois as the state where the MMTJA case against Airbus was pending. Even under the statute’s broad jurisdictional sweep, encompassing the United States as a whole, a major non-American aircraft manufacturer was not in Siswanto, and may well not be in future cases, subject to personal jurisdiction anywhere in the country

Product Liability Issues Arising From Rail Car Wheel Cracking and Fatigue

Max train

Rail car wheel cracking and fatigue can lead to significant product liability exposure and potential negligence claims.  Unless specifically exempted by another statute or federal regulation, Oregon’s product liability statutes, starting at ORS 30.900, govern product liability actions in Oregon, including products such as railroad car wheels.  This article will explore three important studies regarding rail wheel cracking and fatigue issues and will end by discussing critical product liability issues associated with rail wheels.  In rail wheel cases, the phenomena commonly known as rolling contact fatigue (“RCF”) can lead to cracking and even the uncontrolled discharge of portions or rail car wheels.  In extreme circumstances, the wheel itself may be subject to vertical cracking and disintegration.

Rail Car Wheel Cracking:  Three Scientific Studies

There is a vast body peer-reviewed scientific literature that examines the relationship between various manufacturing processes, uses and stresses on railway wheels, and metal fatigue and cracking.  This article explores three such scientific studies that focus on the susceptibility of railway wheels to wear and RCF damage.  As explained in further detail below, studies have found that rail wheel damage is influenced by the properties of the wheel material, including steel composition and hardening techniques.

Below there are links to each study discussed.  If, however, you cannot access the links and would like to review the studies, please contact Olson Brooksby.

The Molyneux-Berry, Davis, and Bevan Study

This study examined railway wheels on fleets from the UK and concluded that the materials that make up the wheels themselves influence the amount of wear and RCF damage that the wheels are subjected to.  Factors that contribute to wheel damage are the composition of the steel, the process by which wheels are manufactured, and loading during operation.

This study can be found here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3914578/

The Liu, Stratman, Mahadevan Study

This study developed a 3D “multiaxial fatigue life prediction model” to calculate the life of a rail car wheel and to assist with predictions regarding the timeline of its fatigue.

This study can be found here: http://yongming.faculty.asu.edu/paper/fatiwheels-ijf.pdf

The Peixoto and Ferreira Study

In this study, fatigue crack growth rate behavior tests were performed according to ASTM E647 (2008).  The purpose of this study was to contribute to the development of accurate models that predict fatigue problems in rail car wheels in order to assist with maintenance and safety standards.

This study can be found here: http://www.deepdyve.com/lp/emerald-publishing/fatigue-crack-propagation-behavior-in-railway-steels-6SBquFt7Pn

Defenses to Rail Wheel Product Liability Claims

A common issue in rail wheel cases is the age of the wheel at issue and the amount of use it has received.  When an older wheel is involved, defense counsel for the manufacturer should look first for a defense based on statute of ultimate repose.  ORS 30.905 provides for a ten year statute of repose.  If the plaintiff does not file a claim for personal injury or property damage within ten years from the date the product was first purchased for use or consumption, the claim is barred.  Oregon has a strong statute of ultimate repose.  There are no “useful safe life” or other exceptions or rebuttable presumptions codified in the statute that provides for an absolute ten years.

Absent an ability to obtain a complete dismissal under the statute of ultimate repose, the three studies discussed above illustrate the variety of causation factors and scientific models concerning rail car fatigue issues.  Manufacturing materials and processes, steel fabrication techniques and materials for both wheels and rails, the nature of the loads, gradients, and cycles are all among the factors that provide fertile ground for defending rail wheel claims.

Multi-Defendant Product Liability and Aviation Cases Under the Lasley Case

Close up of judge raising gavel in courtroom

Lasley: A road map for pleading claims related to the fault of other defendants

Olson Brooksby PC often represents one or more defendants In multi-defendant product liability actions and aviation cases.  The Oregon Supreme Court case of Lasley v Combined Transport, Inc., 351 Or 1 (2011), addressed the issue of causation in Oregon as it relates to negligence cases with multiple tortfeasors.  Lasley also contains a detailed analysis regarding allocation of fault.  It is instructive for defendants who have affirmative defenses relating to the fault of other parties, as well as cross-claims and indemnity and contribution claims against each other.

For example, in multi-party product liability and aviation cases, more often than not, there will be a two or more co-defendants who intend to present a unified, or at least not inconsistent, defense against the target defendant.

Lasley contains a road map for defendants in such cases and sets out how to properly plead claims concerning the fault of other defendants so that those claims may be appropriately considered by the jury.

 What happened in Lasley?

In the Lasley case, a truck owned by defendant Combined Transport lost part of its load of panes of glass on the I-5 freeway.  Id. at 4.  The plaintiff in the case was among those stopped in traffic on the freeway while the glass dropped by defendant Combined Transport was being cleaned up.  Id.  While the plaintiff was stopped, Clemmer, the other defendant in the case, hit plaintiff’s pickup truck.  Id.  Defendant Clemmer was allegedly driving while intoxicated.  The collision caused a gas leak from the plaintiff’s pickup which, in turn, caused a fire, killing the plaintiff.  Id.  The lawsuit against Clemmer and Combined Transport alleged “that Clemmer was negligent in driving at an excessive speed and in failing to keep a proper lookout and control of her car.”  Id. at 13.  Clemmer admitted fault.  Id.  Critically, “Plaintiff did not allege that Clemmer was negligent in driving while intoxicated.”  Id.

Based on these pleadings, the trial court granted the plaintiff’s motion in limine to exclude evidence that Clemmer was intoxicated at the time of the collision, and the jury ultimately returned a verdict against both defendants, finding Combined Transport 22% at fault and Clemmer 78% at fault for plaintiff’s damages.  Id. at 4.

On appeal, Combined Transport argued that the court should have allowed evidence of Clemmer’s negligence due to her intoxication because Combined Transport filed an answer including a general denial and filed a cross-claim against Clemmer for contribution based on negligence due to intoxication.   Id. at 13-14.  Specifically, Combined Transport alleged that Clemmer should “contribute such amount as is proportionate to her share.”  Id. at 23.  (Internal quotation marks omitted.)   However, “Combined Transport did not allege in its cross-claim that it had paid more than its proportional share of liability or seek a money judgment against Clemmer.”  Id.  (Bolding added.)    The plaintiff argued that evidence of Clemmer’s intoxication was properly excluded because the plaintiff did not allege that Clemmer was negligent in driving while intoxicated, and, therefore, Clemmer’s intoxication was not relevant to apportionment as framed by the pleadings.  Id. at 13.

The court explained that Combined Transport should have included allegations of Clemmer’s negligence due to intoxication and Clemmer’s responsibility for contribution in Combined Transport’s answer as an affirmative defense.  Id. at 23.  The court held that:

“[A] defendant that does not allege that it has paid more than its proportional share of liability and that does not seek a separate judgment against a codefendant for the amount of that excess payment, but that instead seeks to avoid paying the full damages that a plaintiff has alleged on the basis that a codefendant is more at fault in a way that was not alleged by the plaintiff, must plead the specification of negligence on which the defendant relies as an affirmative defense in its answer to the plaintiff’s complaint and not in a separate cross-claim against the codefendant.”  

Id. at 22-23.

As explained below, however, the court treated the Lasley case in a special way and allowed the cross-claim to be treated as an affirmative defense. Id. at 26. Most defendants in other multi-party cases, however, probably will not be so lucky.

Also, as explained below, the court went through a lengthy analysis of causation and negligence law in Oregon, and it also set out some critical Oregon-specific pleading rules in multi-defendant cases.

Causation in negligence cases involving multiple defendants under Lasley

The Lasley court stated that, in Oregon, “when the negligence of multiple tortfeasors combines to produce harm, each tortfeasor whose negligence was a cause of the harm may be held liable.”  Id. at 6. Oregon law focuses on factual cause.  Id. at 7.  The Oregon Supreme Court “has abolished not only the terms but also the concepts of ‘proximate’ and ‘legal’ cause.”  Id. at 6.   Factually, if the defendant’s negligence harmed the plaintiff, the defendant is liable to the plaintiff as long as the injuries that the plaintiff suffered were reasonably foreseeable as a result of the defendant’s negligence.  Id. at 7.  Therefore, causation is “a purely factual matter” and is separate from the concept of liability (which is determined by whether the harm was reasonably foreseeable–not by ‘proximate’ or ‘legal’ cause).  Id.

Under Oregon law, causation is determined based on the “substantial factor” test and is evaluated by looking at “causation in fact.”  Id. (internal citation and quotation marks omitted).  If the defendant’s conduct was a substantial factor in producing the harm that befell the plaintiff, the causation element is met.  Id.  The question is “whether someone examining the event without regard to legal consequences would conclude that the allegedly faulty conduct or condition in fact played a role in its occurrence.”  Id. (internal citation and quotation marks omitted).

In Lasley, Combined Transport argued that its conduct was so minimal when compared to Clemmer’s that its conduct could not have been a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s death.  Id. at 8.  Specifically, Combined Transport argued that the trial court should have admitted evidence that Clemmer was intoxicated at the time of the accident and that, when compared to Clemmer’s egregious conduct, Combined Transport’s conduct was so minimal that it should not be held liable.

The court admitted that a case might exist where the causation element is met as to the first defendant such that the plaintiff’s injury would not have occurred absent that first defendant’s negligence.  However, that first defendant’s act was so insignificant when compared to the act of the second defendant that the first defendant should not be held liable.  Id. at 10.  But the court declined to address such a circumstance, finding that those facts were not at issue in Lasley.  Id.

Rather, the court held that, “both the conduct of Clemmer and the conduct of Combined Transport were substantial factors in contributing to decedent’s death.”  Id.  Clemmer admitted fault and the jury found that Combined Transport’s act of spilling the glass on I-5 caused the plaintiff to stop.  Id. at 11.  There was expert testimony that, had the decedent’s pickup been moving at the time of the impact, the pickup would not have ignited and the plaintiff would not have died.  Id.

The court found that, even if the trial court had admitted evidence of Clemmer’s intoxication, Combined Transport’s conduct would not have been any less significant based on the evidence at trial.  Id. at 11.  The court reasoned that, “In deciding whether a defendant’s act is a factual cause of a plaintiff’s harm, the effect of the defendant’s conduct, and not whether that conduct fell below the expected standard of care, is the relevant consideration.”  Id.  Therefore, even if Clemmer was not intoxicated and did not engage in any negligent conduct, but still hit the decedent’s pickup while it was stopped, Clemmer’s conduct would have been a factual cause of the decedent’s harm.  Id.  The court explained that Combined Transport’s argument confused “causation” and “negligence.”  Id.  In other words, even if the trial court had introduced evidence regarding Clemmer’s intoxication, that would simply show “an additional way in which Clemmer deviated from the standard of care, it could not prove an additional way in which Clemmer contributed to the chain of events that caused decedent’s death.”  Id.  The focus is on “the effect of the defendant’s conduct, and not whether that conduct fell below the expected standard of care * * *.”  Id.  The court conceded that its analysis may have been different had Combined Transport proffered “evidence that showed that, because Clemmer was intoxicated, she inevitably would have killed decedent, even if his pickup had not been stationary.”  Id. at 12.  However, that argument was not made by Combined Transport at trial.

Apportionment of fault in multi-defendant cases under Lasley

Under Oregon law, when the fact finder determines that multiple defendants were at fault, the fact finder must apportion fault, based on percentages that equal 100, between those defendants.  Id. at 13.  The fact finder “is required to compare the degree to which each defendant deviated from the standard of care and is therefore ‘blameworthy.'”  Id.

The plaintiff in Lasley argued that Clemmer’s intoxication was not relevant to the fault of the parties “as framed by the pleadings” because the plaintiff did not make such an allegation in his Complaint.  Id.

Combined Transport argued that evidence of Clemmer’s intoxication should have been allowed because Combined Transport’s Answer included a general denial and it also cross-claimed against Clemmer for contribution on the basis of Clemmer’s intoxication.  Id. at 13-14.

The court held that:

“in a comparative negligence case, a defendant that seeks to rely on a specification of negligence not alleged by the plaintiff to establish a codefendant’s proportional share of fault must affirmatively plead that specification of negligence and do so in its answer as an affirmative defense and not in a cross-claim for contribution.”

Id. at 14.

The court found that, under the unique facts of Lasley, Combined Transport’s cross-claim could be construed as an affirmative defense alleging that Clemmer was negligent by driving under the influence.  Id.  The court therefore held that the trial court erred in excluding evidence of Clemmer’s intoxication.  Id.  It is important to note that the court stressed that Lasley was a very unique case and was almost a “one-off” exception to the holding that specific facts underlying a negligence claim not pleaded by a plaintiff must be pleaded by a defendant as an affirmative defense if the defendant wants to rely on those facts at trial.  As a rule, such facts should not be pled as a cross-claim for contribution.  In other words, “a defendant that intends to rely on a specification of negligence not pleaded by a plaintiff must affirmatively plead those facts to make them admissible.”  Id. at 15.  (Bolding added.)

The court explained that Combined Transport’s general denial was not sufficient to put into issue facts that the plaintiff had not pleaded in his Complaint.  Id. at 17.  A general denial only allows for evidence that contradicts “facts necessary to be proved by plaintiff * * *.”  Id (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).  In contrast, an affirmative defense pleads “a new matter” that “does not directly controvert a fact necessary to be established by plaintiff * * *.”   Id (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

A “new matter” consists of facts “different from those averred by the plaintiff and not embraced within the judicial inquiry into their truth.”  Id (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).  In other words, “When a defendant seeks to avoid liability for the damages that a plaintiff claims by asserting that a codefendant engaged in more blameworthy negligent conduct not pleaded by the plaintiff, the defendant relies for that defensive posture on facts different from those averred by the plaintiff.”  Id.  

The court held that:

“a defendant that does not allege that it has paid more than its proportional share of liability and that does not seek a separate judgment against a codefendant for the amount of that excess payment, but that instead seeks to avoid paying the full damages that a plaintiff has alleged on the basis that a codefendant is more at fault in a way that was not alleged by the plaintiff, must plead the specification of negligence on which the defendant relies as an affirmative defense in its answer to the plaintiff’s complaint and not in a separate cross-claim against the codefendant.”  

Id. at 22-23.

Under the facts of Lasley, “Combined Transport did not allege in its cross-claim that it had paid more than its proportional share of liability or seek a money judgment against Clemmer.”  Id. at 23.  Rather, Combined Transport alleged that Clemmer was driving while intoxicated and that Clemmer should “‘contribute such amount as is proportionate to her share.'”  Id.  The court found that Combined Transport should have made those allegations as an affirmative defense.  Id.

However, the court noted that:

Combined Transport did allege, in its cross-claim, the fact of Clemmer’s intoxication and its theory that Clemmer’s intoxication should be considered in determining Clemmer’s proportional share of liability.  Combined Transport was incorrect in selecting the pleading that it was required to use, but was correct in recognizing that it must plead those allegations to make Clemmer’s intoxication relevant to the jury’s determination of comparative fault.  The trial court was correct that a cross-claim for contribution was premature, but it was incorrect that there was no role for Combined Transport’s pleading alleging negligence by Clemmer that was not pleaded by plaintiff.  A pleading was necessary to make Clemmer’s intoxication material and to allow the jury to consider that conduct in comparing the fault of Clemmer and Combined Transport.”

Id. at 26.  

Therefore, the court held that, “in the unique circumstances of this case, the cross-claim that Combined Transport proffered fulfilled the function of an affirmative defense, viz., to put the plaintiff on notice of the theory and facts comprising the defendant’s defense.”  Id. (bolding added).  The court found it significant that, at the time of trial, it was unclear (due to the trial court’s rulings) which pleading Combined Transport was required to use and Combined Transport’s cross-claim did apprise the plaintiff “of the facts on which it intended to rely and the purpose of those facts.  In that narrow circumstance, the defect in designating the pleading as a cross-claim rather than as an affirmative defense did not affect the substantial rights of plaintiff.”  Id. at 27 (bolding added).

The court added that, “However, for the reasons we have stated, the evidence of Clemmer’s intoxication was not relevant on the issues of causation, liability, or damages.  Therefore, we remand the case for a new trial limited to the degree of fault of each defendant ‘expressed as a percentage of the total fault’ attributable to each defendant.”  Id. at 27.

Pleading requirements and rules for defendants who want to ensure that fault is allocated to another party

The court also spelled out additional pleading requirements under Oregon law when a defendant wants to ensure that fault is allocated to another party:

– “When a defendant seeks to avoid liability to the plaintiff by asserting that the plaintiff or another tortfeasor should be held responsible for the plaintiff’s damages, Oregon law also anticipates that the defendant will alternatively plead the facts on which it relies.”  Id. at 16.

– “When a defendant contends that the plaintiff was at fault, the defendant must affirmatively plead ‘comparative or contributory negligence’ in its answer as an affirmative defense.  ORCP 19 B.”  Lasley, 351 Or at 16.

– “When a defendant contends that a tortfeasor who has not been joined in the action or with whom the plaintiff has settled was at fault, the defendant must file a third-party complaint against the tortfeasor or otherwise affirmatively allege the fault of that tortfeasor. ORS 31.600(3).”  Lasley, 351 Or at 16.

– “When a defendant contends that a codefendant was at fault, the defendant also must affirmatively allege the unpleaded fault of the codefendant.  * * *  ORCP 19 B requires that a party set forth affirmatively allegations of ‘comparative negligence.’  That requirement is not limited to allegations of the comparative negligence of a plaintiff.  Lasley, 351 Or at 16-17.

– “ORCP 19 B requires a defendant to set forth affirmatively ‘any other matter constituting an avoidance or affirmative defense.'”  Lasley, 351 Or at 17.

– “A general denial is required to ‘fairly meet the substance of the allegations denied.’  ORCP 19 A.  Therefore, a general denial does not put at issue facts that a plaintiff has not pleaded.”  Lasley, 351 Or at 17.

– Under ORS 31.600(3) and ORCP 19 B, “a defendant must, in some way, affirmatively plead a specification of negligence on which it intends to rely, and that has not been pleaded by the plaintiff, to establish the fault of a codefendant.  A general denial wil not permit a defendant to adduce evidence of a codefendant’s unpleaded negligence to avoid liability to the plaintiff.”  Lasley, 351 Or at 17.

– “[T]he proportional share of fault of each tortfeasor will be determined in the negligence action brought by the plaintiff.”  Id. at 18.

– Oregon no longer has joint and several liability.  “Now, under ORS 31.610, liability is several only; a tortfeasor is responsible only for its percentage of fault as determined in the action brought by the plaintiff.”   Lasley, 351 Or at 19.

– Under Oregon’s comparative negligence law, “no tortfeasor is liable for more than its percentage of fault, and that percentage of fault is determined in the original negligence action brought by the plaintiff.  ORS 31.610(2); ORS 31.805.”  Lasley, 351 Or at 21.

– “A defendant cannot bring a contribution action to seek a different determination of its percentage of fault.  A contribution action serves only to permit a defendant who has ‘paid more’ than its ‘proportional share of the common liability’ to obtain contribution from another person who is also liable for the same injury or death.  ORS 31.800(2).”  Lasley, 351 Or at 21.

– Although Oregon law allows for contribution claims under ORS 31.800(2), “Because a defendant’s liability is several only and the defendant is not obligated to pay more than its proportional share of liability, it seems that the circumstances in which a defendant will pay more than its proportional share and, therefore, have a reason to seek contribution from a codefendant will be quite limited.”   Lasley, 351 Or at 21.

– If a defendant does pay more than its proportional share and has a reason to seek contribution from a codefendant, that defendant “could use a cross-claim to assert a claim for contribution against a codefendant.  ORCP 22 B defines a cross-claim as a claim ‘existing in favor of the defendant asserting the cross-claim and against another defendant, between whom a separate judgment might be had in the action [.]’  A defendant who ‘has paid’ its proportional share could seek a separate judgment against a codefendant for the excess amount of its payment and do so by means of a cross-claim.”   Lasley, 351 Or at 21.

– A cross-clam for contribution should not be used “by a defendant to allege that a co-defendant is at fault for the plaintiff’s damages and should be held liable, not to the defendant, but to the plaintiff.  In that instance, the defendant does not seek a separate judgment against the codefendant as required by ORCP 22 B.  Even so, the comparative negligence statutes indicate that such a pleading may be permitted.”  Lasley, 351 Or at 21.

– “[W]hen a plaintiff does not join a tortfeasor as a defendant, the comparative negligence statutes permit the named defendant to file a third-party complaint against the tortfeasor.  ORS 31.600(3).  In that instance, the third-party defendant will not be liable to the defendant but, potentially, will be liable to the plaintiff.”  Lasley, 351 Or at 22.

– “ORCP 22 C(1) restricts third-party claims to circumstances in which a third party ‘is or may be liable to the third party plaintiff.'”  Lasley, 351 Or at 22.

– Even though ORCP 22 C(1) “indicates that a third-party claim is designed for the circumstance in which the third-party defendant is or may be liable to the third-party plaintiff, ORS 31.600(3) permits a defendant to file a third-party complaint to allege that a third-party defendant is at fault and potentially liable to the plaintiff.”  Lasley, 351 Or at 22.

– “ORS 31.600(2) specifically provides that the fact that a plaintiff is not a party to the third-party claim does not pervent the trier of fact from comparing the fault of the third-party defendant in the action brought by the plaintiff.”  Lasley, 351 Or at 22.

– “[T]he legislature anticipated that a defendant could file a third-party complaint against a tortfeasor who would not be liable to the defendant but who could, instead, be liable to the plaintiff.  Whether the legislature intended to permit a defendant to make a cross-claim against a codefendant who would not be liable to the defendant but, instead, would be liable to the plaintiff, is unclear.”  Id.  

– “Neither an affirmative defense nor a cross-claim for contribution is ideally designed as a mechanism for a defendant to plead the negligence of a codefendant that is not pleaded by the plaintiff and thereby to avoid or reduce the defendant’s liability to the plaintiff.  An affirmative defense is directed at a plaintiff, not at a codefendant.”  That said, “an affirmative defense is the pleading mechanism that a defendant should use.  The use of an affirmative defense is consistent with the terms of ORCP 19 B, whereas the use of a cross-claim for contribution would require modification of the terms of ORCP 22 B(1) and ORS 31.800.”  Lasley, 351 Or at 22.

– “We hold that a defendant that does not allege that it has paid more than its proportional share of liability and that does not seek a separate judgment against a codefendant for the amount of that excess payment, but that instead seek to avoid paying the full damages that a plaintiff has alleged on the basis that a codefendant is more at fault in a way that was not alleged by the plaintiff, must plead the specification of negligence on which the defendant relies as an affirmative defense in its answer to the plaintiff’s complaint and not in a separate cross-claim against the codefendant.”  Id. at 22-23.

– A cross-claim for contribution is directed at a codefendant and is not designed to avoid liability to a plaintiff.  Id. at 22.

– “[A] defendant who wishes to have the jury consider the unpleaded negligence of a codefendant in making” the comparison of fault of the parties “is required to plead the facts establishing that negligence.  The fact that the codefendant has accepted liability based on the facts alleged by the plaintiff does not eliminate that requirement.  Thus, in this case, to have the jury consider evidence of Clemmer’s intoxication in comparing the fault of the parties, either plaintiff or Combined Transport had to allege those facts.  Plaintiff did not do so, and the pleading burden fell on Combined Transport.”  Id. at 26.

 

Evaluation of Potential Claims: Direct Negligence and Vicarious Liability

Oregon Negligence Law Changed Significantly in 1987

Oregon is a state that recognizes a cause of action for direct negligence and vicarious liability.  The lawyers at OlsonBrooksby frequently defend catastrophic personal injury, product liability, and aviation claims which contain causes of action based on direct negligence and vicarious liability.

First, we will discuss potential claims for direct negligence.  An understanding of negligence law in Oregon requires a brief discussion of pre- and post-1987 common law decisions.  Prior to 1987, Oregon generally held to a conventional approach to negligence cases, requiring the existence of a duty, a breach of that duty, causation, and damages.  However, as a result of cases decided in the period around 1987, common law negligence in Oregon now depends on whether the defendant’s conduct unreasonably created a foreseeable risk to a protected interest of the kind of harm that befell the plaintiff.

A Direct Claim For Negligence Can  Exist With Or Without The Fazzolari Special Relationship

The change from the strict adherence to the traditional common law elements of duty, breach, causation, and damages was a result of the Oregon appellate court’s perceived overuse of the cliché “duty” or “no duty.”  Oregon courts, therefore, began to encourage juries and judges to decide each case on its own facts.  Duty continues to play an affirmative role when the parties invoke a particular status, relationship, or standard of conduct beyond the standards generated by common law.  This was the result of the so-called Fazzolari principle, which now governs negligence law in Oregon.  See Fazzolari v. Portland School District 1J, 303 Or 1 (1987).

A special relationship is usually defined in the form of a fiduciary, contractual, or legal relationship such as guardianship.  Typically, the school–student relationship has been deemed a special relationship as contemplated by Fazzolari.

Fazzolari typically requires a three-part test:

  1. Determine whether a particular status, relationship, or standard exists;
  2. If so, analyze that status, relationship, or standard to determine whether a “duty” beyond that of ordinary care exists;
  3. If such a standard, relationship, or status is not alleged, then analyze the case under principles of general negligence based on foreseeability of risk of harm.

For example, suppose an employee of a sports club is involved in an accident in which a club member is injured.  Although there are no Oregon cases exactly on point, given the nature of the relationship between the employee and the club member, we do not believe that the member has a strong argument that a “special relationship” existed between himself and the sports club.

Let’s suppose further that the paperwork which was executed by the member consisted of the membership application and the general waiver of liability for use of the sports center facilities.  Suppose there were no detailed contractual provisions denoting certain services, obligations, or protections provided to, or expected of, the member.  Therefore, there was no fiduciary relationship.  Under these facts, a special relationship did not exist between the member and the sports club that typically would have invoked a duty of care to the member beyond that of the ordinary care extended to a business invitee.

Although courts have often found that schools are in a special relationship with their students, we do not believe that type of relationship is comparable to the sports club and its member.  This is because of the fundamentally voluntary nature of the sports club membership (without regard to the statutory abolition of assumption of the risk discussed below).  Moreover, we should assume that the sports club member was not a third-party beneficiary of any contract that existed between the sports club and a government agency or other third party.

For these reasons, we see nothing that would clearly take this hypothetical case out of the conventional principles of negligence and create a special relationship requiring examination on its own facts.

Although a special relationship may take a case out of the typical “duty” or “no duty” scenario, the harm to the protected interest of the putative plaintiff must still be reasonably foreseeable.  Therefore, given that, in this hypothetical “sports club / member” relationship scenario, we are operating under the principles of ordinary negligence, the appropriate standard in this case is that an organization’s conduct must not unreasonably create a foreseeable risk of harm to others.

Direct negligence claims are sometimes referred to as causes of action based on negligent hiring, negligent training, negligent supervision, or negligent retention.  The organization may be directly liable for negligence claims based on hiring, retention, supervision, or training if (1) it places a dangerous person in a position that poses an unreasonable risk of harm to others, and if (2) the organization knew of the danger or could have discovered the danger through reasonable investigation.

In the event there were other facts such as the following, it may support one or more of the sports club member’s claims for direct negligence:

  • Sports club failed to screen employees, including those that may have needed specialized training, i.e., lifeguards.
  • There is no documentation that sports club ever trained its employees, let alone the employee or employees who were involved with member’s hypothetical accident.
  • Employees displayed an attitude of disinterest, which may have affected their performance of safety related duties.
  • Sports club failed to maintain adequate documentation of employee performance in employee personnel files.
  • Employees had ambiguous or uncertain understanding of the proper safety protocol.
  • Sports club has a history of failing to comply with its own club procedures, resulting in similar prior injuries.
  • Sports club employee(s) admitted they were lazy, did not like their jobs, or were apathetic toward proper performance.
  • Sports club failed to develop adequate safety procedures, i.e., requiring employees or members to obtain and renew any type of skill or safety certification.
  • Sports club employee was not properly supervised, lacked familiarity with sports clubs rules and procedures, and was less experienced at a given task, i.e., weight training safety spotting, than many of the members.

In summary, if sufficient evidence exists of the sports club’s failure to properly hire, train, or supervise, or retain, the club would have an uphill battle defending against a direct negligence claim. 

Vicarious Liability 

Oregon is a vicarious liability state.  If, as in the example above, the sports club member made a claim that the sports club is vicariously liable for his alleged injury, he would argue that sports club, as the “master” of its employee or “servant,” is liable for its employee’s negligence in failing to protect what was a foreseeable interest in the kind of harm that befell the member.  Specifically, the member would allege that, due to the employee’s negligence in failing to supervise, the member was not properly protected from the injury of the type that befell him, and that the accident was foreseeable and preventable.  The employee must have been acting within the course and scope of his employment and have been motivated, in part, to serve the interests of the “master,” i.e., the sports club.

In a claim for vicarious liability, as discussed in more detail below, the sports club need not have played any role in the negligence itself, so long as it controls the actions of the negligent employee and the employee’s actions were performed within the course and scope of employment and performed, at least in part, to benefit the employer.

Regarding course and scope, an employee is acting within the course and scope of employment if three factors are present:

  1. The employee’s actions at the time of the accident substantially occurred within the time and space limits authorized by the employment;
  2. The employee was motivated, at least in part, by a purpose to serve the employer;
  3. The act is of a kind that the employee was hired to perform.

Chesterman v. Barmon, 305 Or 439, 442 (1988).

All three factors must be present for vicariously liability to withstand a challenge.

In vicarious liability cases, the best defense is that the employee committed an intentional act that fell outside the course and scope of his employment.  Nearly all the published cases where courts have held that the employee was acting outside the course and scope involve intentional acts of force committed by security guards, bouncers, bodyguards, etc.

Foreseeability Issues

Reasonable foreseeability is still a necessary aspect of negligence, in any form.  In the example above, where a sports club member is injured, depending on the nature of the injury, the sports club would need to consider the specific facts that gave rise to the claim and whether or not a jury would conclude that the injury was reasonably foreseeable.  From a defense perspective, arguing that reasonable foreseeability does not exist is an uphill battle in most cases.  Oregon law generally finds that an intervening act negates fault only in extreme cases, such as those involving criminals.  For example, in one of the seminal Oregon foreseeability cases, Buchler v. Oregon Corrections Division, 316 Or 499 (1993), an en banc decision, a prisoner on a work crew stole the prison van in which the guard had left the keys, drove to his mother’s home, stole a firearm, and later used it to kill someone in the van.  316 Or at 502.

The court noted that, while the defendant had a history of temper problems, there was nothing in his background that would ever suggest he would commit such a crime.  Id. at 507.  The court ultimately held that an intervening criminal instrumentality caused the harm and created the risk Id. at 510-11.  The court explained that, although “it is generally foreseeable that criminals may commit crimes and that prisoners may escape and engage in criminal activity while at large, that level of foreseeability does not make the criminal’s acts the legal responsibility of everyone who may have contributed in some way to the criminal opportunity.”  Id. at 511.

Conclusion

Product liability, catastrophic personal injury, and aviation claims, all of which Olson Brooksby frequently defend, require a clear understanding of which claims contain causes of action based on direct negligence and vicarious liability, and more importantly, what the elements are, so that proper defenses can be raised, and an investigation and discovery plan can be drafted, to attempt to defeat the claims.

Oregon is a Modified Comparative Fault State

Oregon’s comparative fault statute, ORS 31.600, and the related Uniform Civil Jury Instructions, provide that the trier of fact shall compare the fault of the claimant with the fault of any party against whom recovery is sought, the fault of third-party defendants who are liable in tort to the claimant, and the fault of any person with whom the claimant has settled.  In other words, the jury will be charged with allocating fault to all parties on the verdict form, including parties who have settled.  The percentages must equal 100% for a valid verdict.  Liability is several in Oregon and each party pays their allocated percentage of fault.

While a party may blame all fault on parties who are immune (such as an employer in a work-related personal injury case) and who, therefore, are not included on the verdict form, only those parties on the verdict form, including settled parties, will have fault allocated to them by the jury.  Oregon is a several liability state.  The comparative fault scheme is modified comparative.

Any compensatory damages awarded to plaintiff will be reduced by the corresponding percentage of comparative fault allocated to plaintiff by way of the affirmative defense of comparative fault.  Therefore, assuming that plaintiff’s own fault would be raised as an affirmative defense in a product liability case, plaintiff would be on the verdict form.  Any fault allocated to one or more plaintiff would reduce his or her verdict by the percentage of fault allocated to him or her.  If the fault allocated to a plaintiff is 51% or more, his or her recovery is barred entirely.

The jury must be told that an allocation of fault to the plaintiff will result in a reduction of the plaintiff’s award in proportion to the percentage of fault allocated.  Although settled parties are on the verdict form, and the jury is required to compare the fault of all parties on the verdict form in making their allocation, the jury is prohibited from being informed that any of the parties on the verdict form have settled.  See ORS 31.605.

Immune parties, such as those who are protected by the exclusive remedy provision (e.g., the employer), are not subject to tort liability to the injured worker and, therefore, are not placed on the verdict form, and no percentage of fault can be allocated to them.  However, the comparative fault statute does not prevent a party from alleging that the party was not at fault because the injury was the sole and exclusive fault of a person who is not a party.  In other words, although the jury may determine that an employer who was compliant with worker’s compensation is 100% at fault, they cannot allocate partial fault to the complying employer and the rest of the fault to those on the verdict form.

Under Oregon law, fault may be allocated to a plaintiff’s family member or friend.  For example, in cases involving children, failure to supervise may warrant a claim against a child plaintiff’s parents.  For example, in order for the jury to allocate fault to a parent who was negligent in failing to supervise his or her child, the parent must be a party to whom fault can be allocated on the verdict form.  The parent in this hypothetical will only be on the verdict form if a cross-claim or third-party claim properly alleges the specifications of negligence against the parent.  Defendant would then have the burden of alleging and proving that the parent’s own negligence, in failing to act reasonably to avoid causing injury to the child, was a substantial contributing factor in the accident and injury.

In the absence of proper specifications of negligence at the directed verdict stage against the parent (or any third party, and including the comparative fault of plaintiff), the judge could strike that party from the verdict form, and no fault could be allocated to them.

“Secondary Processes” Don’t Translate to Secondary Risks

Steel manufacturers know that the global demand for steel is almost always increasing, and customers require greater engineering performance.  Customers also require variations in the performance characteristics of specialized, costly alloys, which warrant investment in safe, efficient QC testing equipment.  Specialized components, such as those used in aviation, require precision machining.  Aircraft turbine engine compressor blades, for example, may require precision casting to tolerances of seven microns or less.

The urgency to increase production and focus on key production values can sometimes lead to risk of serious workplace injury, often due to under-recognized dangers in secondary processes.  QC testing operations – where injuries often involve equipment that lacks necessary retrofitting with safety devices, or compliance with published ANSI, ASTM, ISO, or other industry standards – is a case in point.

Additionally, secondary processes like QC testing are what might be called “first assignment” areas for new, contract, or temporary workers who all too often are under-trained and unaware of the potential dangers of metal production.

The “class” of worker is noteworthy because the differing ways in which injury compensation is handled have financial implications for the employer.  Basically, employees are limited to the exclusive remedy provision of worker’s compensation law, which does not provide for non-economic damages.  Other classes of workers may be able to sue for non-economic damages, resulting in verdicts or settlements that can cripple a company.

Our firm was involved in a real-world example as counsel for a large steel mill that burns roughly 30,000 quality-control test samples a year.  In that case, eight-foot-long, 500-pound tail samples were cut from sheet steel in the main roller room and were channeled onto a customized metal roller conveyor system that diverted samples to the sample burning room.  A series of gates restrained and managed each sample’s movement along the conveyor until a final gate clamped down on the tail sample so a laser could cut the sample into smaller segments for QC testing.

In this case, however, with the final gate on the conveyor shut, the penultimate gate opened, freeing an uncut tail sample to continue down the conveyor and collide with the slab in the clutch of the final gate.  The uncut slab careened into the air, striking an employee in the head.  The injured employee was hired through a service, and it was his first day on the job.

It was a tragedy in personal terms, and the steel company lived up to its responsibilities to the injured worker.  Additionally, by following a number of prudent practices, both before and after the accident, the company was protected from legal action that might have created a serious financial threat to the business.  Here are some operations and legal steps every metal manufacturer should consider to reduce personal injury on the job and damaging financial liability in secondary process areas:

  • Immediately examine older equipment and put requisite safeguards into place.  It is natural to be focused on mainline production safety and operations.  However, a safety audit may reveal necessary retrofitting in areas such as QC sampling.  In this case, a post-accident engineering study resulted in the installation of horizontal spacers spanning the conveyor track to prevent tail samples from jumping the conveyor.  The spacers were not required by written standard, but they provided extra safety.
  • Ensure compliance with published industry standards.  The litany of ASTM, ANSI, OSHA, ISO, and other standards for production of metal and component parts and machine safety is beyond the scope of this article.  Consider retaining an occupational safety engineer to conduct an audit that closely assesses older QC test equipment.
  • Ensure that contracts with any temporary worker service providers expressly state that the provider will provide worker’s compensation coverage.  For your employees, worker’s compensation is the “sole remedy” for claims in the event of workplace injury.   However, temporary, contract and other classes of workers – again, often placed in secondary process positions – may be able to sue under Employer Liability Law (“ELL”) that can include non-economic damages such as pain and suffering.

To maintain consistent standards of coverage and liability across a mixed workforce, your worker-service contracts need to delineate that your contractor’s worker’s compensation coverage is the sole remedy for temporary workers.  Although plaintiffs may challenge contractual provisions in court, manufacturers should put in place contractual indemnity provisions that result in consistent protection across all worker classes and forms of claims.

  • Ensure that contracts contain an indemnity provision providing that the service provider will fully indemnify the metal manufacturer for injuries of any kind to the temporary worker.  Clauses that provide an exception for the “sole negligence of the manufacturer” can often lead to expensive litigation and leave the door open for exposure.  Protect your company by resisting the inclusion of such language in your service contracts.

To close, as important as it is for metal manufacturers to meet growing demand and concentrate on the principal staffing, processes, and equipment of main-line production, experience indicates that the dynamics and risks associated with secondary production processes also deserve increased attention.

Product Liability Claim Shape-Shifting: Harmonizing Your Defense When The Consumer Expectation Test and a Negligence Claim are Both in Play

As a firm that limits its practice primarily to aviation, product liability and high exposure negligence cases, Olson Brooksby is well aware of the many pleading traps in cases that involve both claims for strict products liability and negligence cases.  Oregon abolished the alternative “reasonable manufacturer” test more than 20 years ago and now the only proper jury instruction in a product liability case is the consumer expectation test.  In many product liability defense cases, counsel representing the product manufacturer, seller or distributor must harmonize the consumer expectation test with the so-called Fazzolari trilogy of cases in negligence cases.  Fazzolari v. Portland School District 1J, 303 Or 1 (1987) followed a series of legislative tort reforms in product liability cases and to some extent is considered by many to be the appellate courts’ response to the perceived overuse of the terms duty and breach.

The Fazzolari trilogy, held that, in Oregon, the general standard for negligence claims, including those in product liability cases, will be whether or not the dangerous defect (whether based on design, manufacturing, or warning) is reasonably foreseeable and caused harm to a protected interest of the plaintiff.  ORS 30.900 et seq.  In negligence cases, however, when there is a special relationship, such as teacher/student or fiduciary, then the general principles of foreseeability do not apply and the case reverts back to the traditional concepts of duty, breach, causation and damages.  In product liability cases, the harmonizing of these tests is critical.

The Consumer Expectation Test

Oregon is a consumer expectation test state.  The consumer expectation jury instruction is the only proper jury instruction for liability based on strict product liability in Oregon.  Under the consumer expectation test, the product must be “unreasonably dangerous” to be defective in a strict liability case.  Oregon law provides that, whether pleaded as a negligence theory or as strict liability, the case will still be governed as a product liability action.  Three types of defects are recognized: design defects, manufacturing defects, or failure to warn.

In design defect cases, risk-utility proof is not required to make a prima facie case.  To prevail on a product liability claim, the plaintiff must prove that the product was unreasonably dangerous.  In order to determine whether a product is “unreasonably dangerous” under Oregon law, the jury is instructed to apply the consumer expectation test.  Although there are thousands of products that may be the subject of a product liability action under a theory of strict liability of negligence, the plaintiff must prove, and the consumer expectation test provides, that the test is whether the product was “dangerous to an extent beyond that which would be contemplated by the ordinary consumer who purchases it, with the ordinary knowledge common to the community as to its characteristics.”  McCathern v. Toyota Motor Corp., 332 Or 59, 77 (2001) (quoting RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS §402A comment I (1979)).

The consumer expectation test is objective as applied.  Jurors may not use their own personal subjective views of whether or not the product contained conditions that they themselves would expect.  Similarly, they may not put themselves in the position of the injured plaintiff to make such a determination, but must apply the views of the community as a whole.  The McCathern decision also made clear that the consumer expectation test is the only test properly given to the jury in a strict product liability test.  For a good overview of Oregon product liability law, the McCathern decision is worth reading.  Oregon’s product liability statute is contained in ORS 30.900 et. seq.

The Negligence Claim

An understanding of negligence law in Oregon requires a brief discussion of pre- and post-1987 common law decisions.  Prior to 1987, Oregon generally held to a conventional approach to negligence cases, requiring the existence of a duty, a breach of that duty, causation, and damages.  However, since the cases decided in the period around 1987, common law negligence in Oregon now depends on whether the defendant’s conduct unreasonably created a foreseeable risk to a protected interest of the kind of harm that befell the plaintiff.

This change from the strict adherence to the traditional common law elements of duty, breach, causation, and damages was a result of the Oregon appellate courts’ perceived overuse of the cliché “duty” or “no duty.”  Oregon courts, therefore, began to encourage juries and judges to decide each case on its own facts.  Duty continues to play an affirmative role when the parties invoke a particular status, relationship or standard of conduct beyond the standards generated by common law.  This was the result of the so-called Fazzolari principle, which now governs negligence law in Oregon.  See Fazzolari v. Portland School District 1J, 303 Or 1 (1987).

Fazzolari typically requires a three part test:

  1. Determine whether a particular status or relationship exists;
  2. If so, analyze that status, relationship, or standard to determine whether a “duty” beyond that of ordinary care exists;
  3. If such a standard, status or relationship is not alleged, then analyze the case under principles of general negligence based on foreseeability of risk of harm.

Typically, the kinds of relationships that invoke a duty beyond that of ordinary care are found in fiduciary duty cases or in cases where the parties have a particular contract or status.  The duty beyond that of ordinary care could also be invoked under a particular statute or rule.  If there is a special relationship, then the rule of general foreseeability does not apply.  Rather, if a special relationship exists, then the plaintiff can argue that the defendant had a duty beyond that of ordinary care.  Based on the limited information available to date, we do not see anything in the facts of this case that would suggest a special relationship between Cadet and the Huo family that would require a duty beyond that of ordinary care.

Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress

Oregon is a physical impact state as it relates to pursuit of a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED).  Oregon subscribes to the physical-impact rule, meaning that damages arising from purely emotional or psychological upset (that is, NIED) are not typically recoverable for a defendant’s unreasonable actions or failure to act unless there is an accompanying physical impact to the party seeking relief, no matter how slight.  In any case where a plaintiff is seriously injured, and there is also an injury to a spouse or close family member, the court and jury would almost certainly find (and it would likely be reversible error to not so find) that there was an accompanying physical impact as a result of plaintiff’s injuries.   However, a plaintiff may also simply allege a claim for noneconomic damages incorporating the alleged NIED claim as part of the negligence claim.