Tag Archives: Product liability

Scott Brooksby Recognized as One of the Best Lawyers in America

Scott Brooksby has been recognized as one of the Best Lawyers in America for product liability litigation.

Best Lawyers® compiles its lists of outstanding attorneys by conducting peer-review surveys in which thousands of leading lawyers confidentially evaluate their professional peers. The current edition of The Best Lawyers in America© 2018 is based on millions of detailed evaluations of lawyers by other lawyers.

The methodology is designed to capture, as accurately as possible, the consensus opinion of leading lawyers about the professional abilities of their colleagues within the same geographical area and legal practice area.

Oregon product liability lawyer
Scott Brooksby, one of the Best Lawyers in America

Congratulations to Scott Brooksby for being honored in Oregon Super Lawyers!

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No more than five percent of the lawyers in Oregon are selected for this honor.

Scott has tried numerous personal injury and product liability cases in Oregon state and federal courts. He has experience in lengthy product liability trials, including the defense of a large aviation product manufacturer in a months-long trial.  He has also resolved hundreds of cases through arbitration and mediation. He has successfully argued many motions that resulted in case dismissals or other favorable results.  Scott has experience counseling product liability clients regarding the avoidance of litigation and unwanted governmental intervention.

Scott has litigated and tried catastrophic injury cases, particularly those involving allegedly defective products.  He has experience with medical treatment issues that result from falls, burns and amputation injuries in manufacturing facilities.  In the area of product liability, Scott has exceptional knowledge and experience in transportation industry accidents, aviation crash litigation, component part product liability law, and drug and medical device cases.

Olson Brooksby has extensive experience with product liability law through decades of representing national and international manufacturers, sellers, distributors, and suppliers.  Our trial lawyers know how to effectively settle and try product liability cases and how to minimize risk and avoid future claims.

Scott Brooksby has experience handling and working with a wide variety of product liability experts regarding complicated factual and medical issues.  The law firm of Olson Brooksby is familiar with federal and state product liability law and regulations, and work with our clients to determine the best defense strategy when faced with a product liability lawsuit or potential lawsuit.

Federal Discovery and Admissiblity of Evidence of Prior Incidents in Product Liability Cases

Plaintiffs may achieve higher verdicts in product liability trials when there is evidence of prior claims establishing that the manufacturer had notice of the alleged defect in design, manufacture, or warning.  Therefore, in product liability litigation, most plaintiffs request discovery concerning prior claims, or incidents that did not give rise to formal claims, that are in any way related to the product.  For instance, a plaintiff’s lawyer might issue a broad discovery request for anything concerning prior incidents of any kind related to the model of product at issue or any version of that model.  Even more common and problematic are so-called “product line” requests that seek evidence of prior claims related to a broad range of allegedly similar products or similar models.

Requests for production concerning prior incidents might be routine for large companies that have large, sophisticated in-house legal teams and are likely to have storage, retrieval, and document retention policies, but such requests can be a terrible disruption for small businesses that may not have systems in place to handle aggressive discovery in litigation.

But no matter what size your client is, you should be prepared for a request for production seeking evidence of prior incidents and prior claims.  You should have discussions with your product liability clients early on in the case about the product’s incident and claim history, as well as potential discovery requests.

The first part of this article will discuss whether requests concerning prior incidents are actually discoverable.  We will discuss defense tactics for responding to requests for discovery concerning prior incidents, as well as representative cases from different U.S. federal court jurisdictions concerning discovery.

The second part of this article will discuss whether, even if discoverable, the evidence concerning prior incidents is ultimately admissible.  We will discuss strategies for preventing admission of evidence concerning prior incidents, as well as representative cases from different U.S. federal court jurisdictions concerning admissibility.    

Finally, the third part of this article will discuss strategies for assisting clients with the difficult process of discovery requests for evidence of prior incidents.

I. Whether requests concerning prior incidents are actually discoverable.

A. Defense tactics for responding to requests for discovery concerning prior incidents.

There is no single method for successfully defending against discovery requests for evidence concerning prior incidents.  Unfortunately, U.S. federal courts treat each case differently and, as explained below, various jurisdictions have different standards for the discovery of evidence of prior incidents.

That said, the facts and circumstances of each case are important, and any good defense will involve distinguishing the specific facts of your case from cases where the court allowed discovery.  Consider, for example, the distinguishing facts of the products, conditions, and intended uses at issue, particularly if you have a technical case.

Consider hiring an expert as early as possible and using your expert to assist you with defending against discovery requests.  Your can submit an affidavit from your expert explaining the differences between the incident involved in your case and the prior incidents.  The more technical your case, the more likely your expert will be useful and will be able to draw distinctions that the plaintiff is not prepared for.  An example of this might be important engineering differences in the product at issue versus the products involved in the discovery that plaintiff requests.

B. Representative cases from different U.S. federal court jurisdictions concerning discovery.

1) Discovery of evidence concerning prior incidents is generally allowed in                           federal court under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1).

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) is broad and provides that discovery may be obtained as long as it is “relevant” and “reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.”  The advisory committee notes to Rule 26 provide that, “A variety of types of information not directly pertinent . . . could be relevant to the claims or defenses raised in a given action.  For example, other incidents of the same type, or involving the same product, could be properly discoverable . . . .”  Fed. R. Civ. P. 26 advisory committee’s note, 2000 amend., subdiv. (b)(1).

In Kozlowski v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 73 F.R.D. 73, 75 (D. Mass. 1976), the court underscored how broad discovery can be in federal products cases when it noted that, “most courts have held that the existence and nature of other complaints in product liability cases is a proper subject for pretrial discovery.”

2) Some jurisdictions (the Eighth Circuit, the Northern District of California, Kansas,       the Southern District of Indiana, Maryland, and the Western District  of                 Pennsylvania) require a threshold showing of relevance before the discovery is                   permitted.  After a threshold showing of relevance, the burden shifts to the                           defendant to demonstrate that any relevance is outweighed by the harm that would             result from the evidence being admitted. 

The ambiguous nature of the term “relevance” illustrates the problematic nature of the discovery phase of a lot of product liability claims.  Plaintiffs will make requests for “other incidents of the same type” or “other incidents involving” the product (or products, i.e., “all washing machines manufactured by defendant”) at issue or prior incidents with “similar circumstances”.

Some jurisdictions will require a “threshold showing of relevance” before evidence of prior incidents will be discoverable.  See, e.g., Hofer v. Mack Trucks, Inc., 981 F.2d 377, 380 (8th Cir. 1992) (“Some threshold showing of relevance must be made before parties are required to open wide the doors of discovery and to produce a variety of information which does not reasonably bear upon the issues in the case.”); Barcenas v. Ford Motor Co., 2004 WL 2827249, *2 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 9, 2004) (quoting with approval Hofer’s requirement of the threshold showing of relevance); McCoy v. Whirlpool Corp., 214 F.R.D. 642, 643 (D. Kan. 2003) (requiring that the discovery appear “relevant on its face”); Chavez v. DaimlerChrysler Corp., 206 F.R.D. 615, 619 (S.D. Ind. 2002) (the discovery must first appear to be relevant, and then “the party resisting the discovery has the burden to establish the lack of relevance by demonstrating that the requested discovery is of such marginal relevance that the potential harm occasioned by discovery would outweigh the ordinary presumption in favor of broad disclosure.”); Tucker v. Ohtsu Tire & Rubber Co., 191 F.R.D. 495, 497 (D. Md. 2000) (“even though it relates to a light truck tire, not a passenger tire as is at issue here, the plaintiffs have established threshold relevance, as required by Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1) and Fed. R. Evid. 401.”); Swain v. General Motors Corp., 81 F.R.D. 698, 700 (W.D. Pa. 1979), (where the plaintiff met the “prima facie showing” of relevance to support his discovery request for evidence “concerning prior motor mounts” that allegedly failed in his vehicle).

3) Some jurisdictions (the Western District of Michigan, the Eastern District of                     Louisiana, and the Southern District of New York) require that prior incidents be “similar” to the incident that gave rise to the underlying case before allowing the discovery of evidence of prior incidents.  Whether the prior incidents are “similar” depends on the particular court and the facts and circumstances. 

Most jurisdictions generally do not apply the “substantially similar test”—requiring that the conditions of past incidents be substantially similar to those in the underlying case—until the admissibility phase.  However, some jurisdictions do require some amount similarity between the prior incidents and the incident that gave rise to the underlying case before allowing discovery.

For example, in Lohr v. Stanley–Bostitch, Inc., 135 F.R.D. 162, 164 (W.D. Mich. 1991), the court explained that, at the discovery phase, the circumstances surrounding prior incidents must be “similar enough”.  By contrast, at the admissibility phase, “Evidence of similar accidents is admissible so long as the conditions in effect during the past incidents are ‘substantially similar’ to those at the time of the incident in question and the two events arise from the same cause.”  Id. (internal citation omitted).

In State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. Black & Decker, Inc., 2003 WL 103016, *4 (E.D. La. Jan. 9, 2003), the court applied a “sufficiently similar” test and explained that, “In product liability actions it is frequently difficult to judge which of a manufacturer’s products are sufficiently similar to the allegedly defective product to be subject to discovery.”  As in Lohr, the Eastern District of Louisiana court in State Farm distinguished the less-stringent similarity standard for the discovery phase from the “substantially similar” standard applied to the admissibility phase.  State Farm, 2003 WL 103016 at *4 (quoting Lohr, 135 F.R.D. at 163).

In Fine v. Facet Aerospace Products Co., 133 F.R.D. 439, 441, 443 (S.D.N.Y. 1990), the Southern District of New York explained that the prior incidents must be “sufficiently similar” in order to meet the “threshold showing of relevance”.  The court explained that, if the models of product in the prior incidents are different from the one at issue in the underlying case, discovery may be allowed if the models involved in the prior incidents “share with the accident-causing model those characteristics pertinent to the legal issues raised in the litigation.  For example, where a plaintiff alleged that three-wheel all-terrain vehicles are inherently unstable, he was entitled to discovery with respect to each of the manufacturer’s models.”  Id. (citing Culligan v. Yamaha Motor Corp., 110 F.R.D. 122, 124, 126 (S.D.N.Y. 1986)).

A court may require expert testimony to support the showing that the prior incidents were “sufficiently similar”, particularly when there are technical issues that require more knowledge than a lay person.  In Fine, the court explained that the plaintiff may have been allowed discovery if it had proffered “the affidavit of an expert in aviation engineering.”  Id. at 443.  Because plaintiff did not proffer any such expert testimony, the court denied the plaintiff’s motion to compel discovery concerning alternative designs for planes.  Id. at 443.

4) In the discovery phase, a few of jurisdictions (the Northern District of                               California, the Northern District of Illinois, and the District of New Mexico)                             have applied the more stringent “substantially similar” test that most courts do                     not apply until the admissibility phase. 

In a few jurisdictions, the plaintiff bears the burden of showing that prior incidents involving different products are “substantially similar” before discovery will be allowedFor example, not only has the Northern District of California required a threshold showing of relevance before allowing discovery concerning prior incidents, but it has also required plaintiffs to show “that the different products are substantially similar . . . .”  Barcenas, 2004 WL 2827249 at *3

In Piacenti v. General Motors Corp., 173 F.R.D. 221, 225-26 (N.D. Ill. 1997),  the court held that the plaintiff failed to establish that a different model of vehicle was “substantially similar” and denied the plaintiff’s motion to compel.  The court explained that, “allowing discovery of models that are not substantially similar to the model at issue is truly the equivalent of comparing apples and oranges where there are differences between the other models and the model at issue in terms of wheelbase, width, and center of gravity.”  Id. at 225.  The court further stated that discovery concerning similar models should only be allowed if “the similar models have the same component parts or defects”.  Id.

In Gonzales v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., the court noted that the “substantially similar” test applies if the plaintiff “seeks to discover or to introduce evidence of the design, testing or performance of other similar products . . . . .”  No. CIV 05–941 BB/LFG, 2006 WL 7290047, slip op., *7-9 (D.N.M., Aug. 10, 2001) (italics added).

Expert testimony may be helpful for both sides in these cases, but such testimony must be more than “conclusory.”  For example, in Piacenti, the court denied the plaintiff’s motion to compel answers to interrogatories and its supplemental request for production concerning evidence regarding other vehicle models manufactured by the defendant.  173 F.R.D. at 222.  The denial was without prejudice so that an expert opinion could be filed stating that the models “are sufficiently similar to the Suzuki Samurai [so] that tests performed on the Samurai would be relevant in determining liability with respect to the Geo Tracker [the plaintiff’s vehicle].”  Id.  Although the plaintiff submitted expert affidavits, the court found that they consisted of only “conclusory” statements as compared to the defendant’s expert affidavits, which were more detailed.  Id. at 225.  Therefore, the court ultimately disallowed discovery relating to models other than the one at issue in the lawsuit.  Id. at 225-26.

II. Whether, even if discoverable, the evidence concerning prior incidents is ultimately admissible.

A. Strategies for preventing admission of evidence concerning prior incidents.

As with requests for discovery, there is no silver bullet to fight against requests for the admissibility of evidence concerning prior incidents.  However, because the requirements for admissibility can generally be more stringent than the requirements for discovery, it is almost always worth fighting the admissibility of evidence of prior incidents.

You will be better prepared to fight against the admissibility of prior incidents if you hire your expert early in the case.  Prepare your expert to distinguish your case from evidence of any prior incidents that plaintiff might seek to admit at trial.  Expert testimony will almost always be helpful to distinguish your case from the prior incidents.  A good plaintiff’s lawyer will have an expert who will try to show that the prior incidents are similar to the case at issue.  Prepare for this early by ensuring that your expert is familiar with the product and with any evidence of prior incidents that plaintiff will seek to admit.  Make sure that your expert’s opinions are based on detail and technical knowledge and that they are not conclusory.

The value of the case may be significantly affected if the evidence of prior incidents is admitted.  It is always beneficial to know early on in the case whether the evidence will be admitted and the ways in which that can affect the case value.  Therefore, try to file your motions in limine early on in the case to prevent the admissibility of evidence of prior incidents.  Litigators generally wait too long to do motions in limine, e.g., we wait until the federal court deadline, just prior to the trial.  Consider filing motions in limine early on, especially in a technical case or if you feel that the evidence of prior incidents could really hurt you in front of the factfinder.

B. Representative cases from different U.S. federal court jurisdictions concerning admissibility.    

1) In most jurisdictions, evidence of prior incidents is generally admissible as long as the other incidents are “substantially similar” to the incident in the case at hand. 

Evidence of prior incidents is generally admissible as long as the plaintiff demonstrates that the other incidents are “substantially similar” to the incident in the case at hand.  Cooper v. Firestone Tire & Rubber Co., 945 F.2d 1103, 1105 (9th Cir. 1991).  See also Albee v. Contl. Tire N.A., Inc., 2010 WL 1729092, *6 (E.D. Cal. Apr. 27, 2010) (internal citations and some quotation marks omitted) (“The Ninth Circuit has repeatedly held      that . . . ‘substantial similarity is required when a plaintiff attempts to introduce evidence of other accidents as direct proof of negligence, a design defect, or notice of the defect.’  Minor or immaterial dissimilarity does not prevent admissibility.” ); Steede v. General Motors, LLC, 2013 WL 142484, *9 (W.D. Tenn. Jan. 11, 2013) (“the Sixth Circuit has recognized the substantial similarity doctrine and held, for example, that evidence of prior accidents is admissible to prove a defect so long as the prior accidents involved the same model, design, and defect, and occurred under similar circumstances”).

What is “substantially similar” will be determined on a case-by-case basis, depending on your jurisdiction.

For example, in Ramos v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 615 F.2d 334, 338 (5th  Cir.), modified on other grounds, 620 F.2d 464 (5th Cir. 1980), the plaintiff sought to admit evidence of a prior incident involving the collapse of an oil rig mast.  The court ultimately found that the prior incident was substantially similar.  It explained that, “Evidence of similar accidents might be relevant to the defendant’s notice, magnitude of the danger involved, the defendant’s ability to correct a known defect, the lack of safety for intended uses, strength of a product, the standard of care, and causation.”  Id. at 338-39.  The court found that evidence of the prior collapse could be relevant to show “notice of the defect, its ability to correct the defect, the mast’s safety under foreseeable conditions, the strength of the mast, and, most especially, causation.”  Id. at 339.

The court also stated that the admissibility of evidence of prior incidents concerning a product “depends upon whether the conditions operating to produce the prior failures were substantially similar to the occurrence in question.  The requirement that the prior accident not have occurred at too remote a time is a special qualification of the rule requiring similarity of conditions.”  Id. (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

A plaintiff may use expert testimony to assist with its burden to show that the prior incidents are “substantially similar” and a defendant may use expert testimony to show that the prior incidents are substantially dissimilar.  Id. at 339-340.  See also Haynes v. Am. Motors Corp., 691 F.2d 1268, 1271–72 (8th Cir. 1982) (the defendant’s expert testified concerning dissimilarities between two different models of Jeeps and the court ultimately excluded evidence from the operator’s manual of the non-subject model).

Evidence concerning prior incidents may also be admissible because it is relevant “to show a culpable state of mind on the part of the defendant, e.g., persevering in a refusal to provide available safety features on a product despite knowledge of other similar accidents.”  Gonzales, 2006 WL 7290047 at *6 (citing Smith v. Ingersoll–Rand Co., 214 F.3d 1235, 1250 (10th Cir. 2000)).

2) In the Fourth Circuit and the Tenth Circuit, the substantially similar rule may    be             relaxed if the evidence of prior incidents is used to prove notice or awareness                     of a dangerous condition (rather than causation). 

The Fourth Circuit and the Tenth Circuit may relax the “substantially similar” rule if the evidence of prior incidents is used to prove notice or awareness of a dangerous condition rather than causation.  For example, in Benedi v. McNeil–P.P.C., Inc., 66 F.3d 1378, 1386 (4th Cir. 1995), the court explained that, “When prior incidents are admitted to prove notice, the required similarity of the prior incidents to the case at hand is more relaxed than when prior incidents are admitted to provide negligence.  The incidents need only be sufficiently similar to make the defendant aware of the dangerous situation.”  (Internal citations omitted.)

In Ponder v. Warren Tool Corp., the court noted that, “When evidence of other accidents is used to prove notice or awareness of a dangerous condition, the rule requiring substantial similarity of those accidents to the one at issue should be relaxed.”  834 F.2d 1553, 1560 (10th Cir. 1987).

III. Strategies for assisting clients with the difficult process of discovery requests for evidence of prior incidents.

     Clients often feel strongly that the prior incidents are not relevant and should have no bearing upon their lawsuit.  As any experienced lawyer knows, extensive requests for production can lead many clients who are less experienced with such requests to anxiously perceive that their entire brand, company, or even their own personal judgment is being put on trial.

Client resistance to production of evidence concerning prior incidents may be mitigated with repeated early discussion of discovery practice and relative risks.  Engage in detailed discussions before the requests are actually made.  If you practice in a jurisdiction with very liberal discovery rules, and if you have a particularly unsophisticated or reluctant client, you may even want to discuss the potential for sanctions in the event that discovery is wrongly withheld.

As soon as possible, you should have a discussion with your client concerning issues such as the assigned judge, the jurisdictional tendencies, whether or not production or admissibility of the evidence would be damaging, and whether the prior incidents may show prior notice of an alleged defect.

Economic Losses and Loss of Consortium Claims in Oregon Product Liability Cases

Economic Loss is Not Available in Oregon in Strict Product Liability Cases

The recovery of economic loss such as lost profits or lost sales is not recoverable in Oregon in product liability actions where strict liability is alleged.  In Brown v. Western Farmers Assoc., 268 Or 470, 480 (1974), the Oregon Supreme Court held that strict product liability was not designed or intended to offer a remedy for such commercial aspirations as sales and profits.  Oregon is a physical injury state and the Oregon appellate courts have uniformly held that strict liability is not a remedy for purely economic loss in the absence of a physical injury to persons or property.  Russell v. Deere & Co., 186 Or App 78, 84-85 (2003).

Lost Income to a Spouse Who Cares for an Injured Spouse is Not Recoverable as Part of a Loss of Consortium Claim in a Product Liability Action

It should also be noted that a spouse is not entitled to recover for lost income sustained as a result of having to care for her injured spouse as part of a claim for loss of consortium.  Axen v. American Home Products Corp., 158 Or App 292, 309-311, adh’d to on recons, 160 Or App 19 (1999).  In Axen, a husband and wife brought a strict product liability claim for injuries to the husband allegedly caused by a prescription drug.  The husband and wife alleged that the husband’s use of the drug Cordarone caused a loss of vision.  The wife argued that she was forced to take an early retirement in order to care for her husband and as a result, lost retirement benefits of $436,392.00.  The jury awarded the wife nearly one million dollars for loss of consortium.  The Oregon Court of Appeals reversed the wife’s award of economic damages.  The court stated it would adhere to the “traditional rule” that lost income is not a proper subject of a damage award for loss of consortium.  Id. at 311.

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.

Scott Brooksby recognized as Business Edition “Super Lawyer” for Product Liability

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Scott Brooksby has been recognized as Business Edition “Super Lawyer” in the 2013 Business Edition of Super Lawyers for product liability defense. Scott has been recognized as one of the top attorneys in product liability defense commercial practice, selected from attorneys across the nation and in London.

Scott Brooksby is experienced in defending companies of all sizes against product liability claims–from small franchisees to Fortune 500 companies.  Scott is aware of the needs of different-sized companies facing issues like product recalls and compliance issues.

Scott has handled product liability cases in both state and federal courts.  He is intimately familiar with the various applicable state and federal regulations that apply in product liability cases, and he serves as on-demand counselors for his clients as issues come up. He also assists his product liability clients with insurance issues, employment and temporary worker concerns, and contract analysis.

Scott has extensive experience with product liability law through decades of representing national and international manufacturers, sellers, distributors, and suppliers.  He is a trial lawyer who provides sound recommendations to his clients regarding when to settle and when to try product liability cases, and how to minimize risk and avoid future claims.

Scott works efficiently with a wide variety of the nation’s most recognized product liability experts regarding complicated factual and medical issues.  He is familiar with federal and state product liability law and regulations, and he works with his clients to determine the best defense strategy when faced with a product liability lawsuit or potential lawsuit.

Three types of product defects are recognized in Oregon: design defects, manufacturing defects, and failure to warn.  Scott has defended companies against all three types of product defect claims and have successfully challenged product liability cases pleaded under both negligence and strict liability theories.

Defending the Pediatric Burn Case: How Knowing the Medical Literature and New Treatment Modalities Can Help Control Damages

Surgeons discussing computed tomography (CT) scans in operating theatre

Introduction

Most seasoned defense attorneys are well aware of the three subjects that often tend to cause far higher-than-expected verdicts: burns, kids, and cancer.  In this article we will address the danger of situations where there is not only a child, but the child is severely burned.

In prior posts we addressed burn classification, conventional treatment modalities, and aspects of expected outcomes.  We will not repeat that information here but instead address some general mortality statistics and where children, specifically those age six and younger, fit in.  We will also address experimental and new therapies for children, as described in the recent literature, including the use of virtual reality, albuterol inhalants, and aerosolized Heparin/Acetylcystine therapies.  All of these therapies have been shown to lower mortality rates in children.

Regardless of the burn mechanism, defending a pediatric burn case, especially if it was fatal, can be extremely difficult.  Juries tend to be very sensitive to burn injuries, especially in cases involving children.  Therefore, the product liability or aviation defense lawyer must have an in-depth understanding of the mechanics of burn injuries and available treatment options, particularly in those cases where inhalation injury is a component.  Both an aircraft cabin and a home are confined spaces that can be filled with fatal levels of smoke, sometimes within seconds.  Given these considerations, it is essential that the defense attorney be thoroughly prepared, armed with both knowledge and empathy.

Statistical Overview of Burn Injuries

According to the National Burn Repository,[1] which gathers and analyzes statistical data from burn centers throughout the United States and Canada, there were 126,000 hospital admissions for burns from 1995 – 2005.  The mean burn size was 13.4 percent total body surface area (TBSA) with sixty-two percent of the full thickness burns covering less than ten percent TBSA.  Sixty-one percent of patients were transferred to another hospital for a higher level of care.  Six and one-half percent of admissions had inhalation injuries.  The data also show that the patients were seventy percent male with a mean age of 33 years.  Flame and scald burns accounted for seventy-eight percent of all burn injuries.

The prognostic burn index, a sum of the patient’s age and percentage of TBSA burn, was used as a gauge for patient mortality for many years.  This index suggested that by taking into consideration the patient’s age and the size of their full thickness TBSA burn, and adding twenty percent for inhalation, the patient’s mortality probability could be predicted.[2]  Advances in early excision of burn eschar,[3] skin grafting, early enteral feeding,[4] and wound closure with advanced techniques (skin substitutes) have altered the simple mathematical calculation.[5]  Patients with a prognostic burn index of 90 – 100 now have a mortality rate in the 50 – 70% range with poorer outcomes at both extremes of age.[6]

The Importance of Pediatric Treatment in Cases Involving Inhalation Burns 

As noted above, mortality rates are higher in pediatric patients.  Smoke inhalation injury continues to be implicated as the leading cause of death in persons with burn injuries.  Smoke inhalation injury has a reported mortality of 20 – 80%.[7]  This is also supported by the addition of 20% traditionally added to the prognostic burn index.

In smoke inhalation injury, there is a destruction of the ciliated epithelium[8] that lines the tracheobronchial tree.  Casts[9] from these cells cause upper-airway destruction, and this leads to obstruction, causing pulmonary failure.  In one recent study, the reduction in mortality in pediatric patients with inhalation injuries placed on a regimen of aerosolized heparin[10] and acetylcystine[11] was tested.[12]  Forty-seven children, acting against forty-three controls, received 5000 units of heparin and 3 ml of a 20% solution of acetylcystine aerosolized every four hours for the first seven days of injury.  All patients were extubated when they were able to maintain spontaneous oxygen levels.  The number of patients requiring re-intubation for successive pulmonary failure was recorded, as was mortality.

The results indicate a significant decrease in re-intubation rates, incidence of atelectasis,[13] and mortality for patients treated with the regimen of heparin and acetylcystine when compared with the controls.  Heparin/acetylcystine nebulization in children with massive burn and smoke inhalation injuries results in a significant decrease in incidence of re-intubation for progressive pulmonary failure and a reduction in mortality.

The Use of Virtual Reality For Acute Pain Management in Pediatric Burn Patients

In one experimental case, virtual reality was tested for pain management.[14]  Managing high pain levels associated with pediatric burns can result in a decreased reliance on opioid medications and can potentially minimize future risk of developing psychiatric problems.  During the study, hospitalized patients over the age of six and without facial burns were selected.  A lightweight helmet with binocular display provided patients with a Virtual Reality (VR) experience during acute pain procedures such as wound care or therapy.  Pain levels were assessed using the Faces Pain Scale (FPS).[15] Constitutional signs and symptoms, opioid medication usage, as well as nursing and family member assessments of pain were also recorded.  VR provided a three-dimensional computer-simulated environment where patients could see, hear, and interact with objects displayed in the virtual world.

Preliminary results suggested at least a 20% decrease on FPS during VR intervention.  Pediatric patients report an increased tolerance to exposed dressing sites during VR.  It remains unknown which patient factors (age, sex, characteristics of the burn, background pain level, etc.) are predictive of effective pain management with VR.

Conclusion

Olson Brooksby has defended many product liability and aviation cases where the resulting injury was a serious, sometimes fatal, burn.  From a defense perspective, such cases pose difficulties if defense counsel is not prepared to skillfully handle the cross examination of the treating burn physician.  The best way to do so is to be familiar with the prevailing treatment methods and the relevant literature.  Conversance with the literature will provide a working understanding of the techniques that were available to the treatment team to minimize the pediatric burn patient’s pain and increase the likelihood of survival.

 


[1] Miller, S.F.M., et al., National Burn Repository, 2005, American Burn Association: Chicago, IL. P. 1-51.

[2] Grunwald, T.B. and Garner, W.L. Acute Burns. University of Southern California; Los Angeles County + USC Burn Center, Los Angeles, California.

[3] Dead matter cast off the surface of the skin after a burn.

[4] Tubal feeding through the intestine.

[5] Rose, D.D. and E.B. Jordan, Perioperative management of burn patients.  Aorn J, 1999. 69(6): p. 1211-22; quiz 1223-30.

[6] N., K. Aoki, and M. Yamazaki, Recent advances in the management of severely burned patients.  Nippon Geka Gakkai Zasshi, 1999. 100(7): p. 424-9.

[7] Thompson PB, Herndon DN, Taber DL, et al.  Effects of mortality of inhalation injury. J. Trauma 1986; 26:163-5.

[8] Threadlike projections from the free surface of epithelial cells such as those lining the trachea, or bronchi.  The propel or sweep materials, such as mucus or dust across a surface such as the respiratory tract.  Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, 19th Ed.. 2001. Venes. D., Ed., F.A. Davis Co., Philadelphia.

[9] Pliable or fibrous material shed in various  pathological conditions, the product of effusion.  It is molded to the shape of the part in which it has been accumulated, i.e., bronchial or tracheal casts.  Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, 19th Ed.. 2001. Venes. D., Ed., F.A. Davis Co., Philadelphia.

[10] Heparin is an aparenteral anticoagulant drug with a faster effect than warfarin or its derivatives.  It is composed of polysaccharides that inhibit coagulation by forming an antithrombin. An antithrombin is anything that prevents action on the thrombin.  The Thrombin is an enzyme formed in coagulating blood which reacts with soluble fibrinogen to form a blood clot.  Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, 19th Ed.. 2001. Venes. D., Ed., F.A. Davis Co., Philadelphia.

[11] Acetylcystine is a chemical substance that, when nebulized and inhaled, liquefies mucus and pus.  Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, 19th Ed.. 2001. Venes. D., Ed., F.A. Davis Co., Philadelphia.

[12] M.H. Desai, MD, R. Micak, RRT, RCP, J. Richardson, RCP, RRT, R. Nichols, MD, and D.N. Herndon, MD.  Reduction in Mortality in Pediatric Patients with Inhalation Injury with Aerosolized Heparin/Acetylcystiine Therapy.  University of Texas Medical Branch and Shriners Burns Institute, Galveston.  American Burn Association, 1998.

[13] Collapse of part (or, less commonly, all) of a lung.

[14] Minassian, A PhD; Kotay, A MS; Perry, W PhD; Tenenhaus, M MD, FACS; Potenza, B M. MD, FACS.  The Use of Virtual Reality for Acute Pain Management in Pediatric Burn Patients.  University of California San Diego, The American Burn Association, 2006.

[15] The Faces Pain Scale, also known as the Wong-Baker FACES Pain Rating Scale, is intended for children over three years of age.  It provides a series of six drawn facial expressions with an associated numerical value from zero through 5 representing the associated pain.  Hockenberry MJ, Wilson D:  Wong’s Essentials of Pediatric Nursing, 8th Edition. St. Louis:  2009: Mosby.

 

Turbine Engine Hot Section Manufacturing: Complex Metallurgy and Dangerous Work Environments

Turbine engine hot section manufacturing is a complex industry that involves risk of serious injury and an adherence to safety rules and best practices.

There is a common maxim that two technologies liberated the modern world: the automatic washing machine and the jet engine.  When RAF Lieutenant Frank Whittle received an English patent on the basic design for the modern jet engine in 1930 (the first flight was not until 1941), he probably could not have imagined the changes that would occur, in materials, complexity, and performance capability.

Today’s commercial jet engines have as many as 25,000 parts.  They are up to eleven feet in diameter and twelve feet long.  The engines can weigh more than 10,000 pounds and produce 100,000 pounds of thrust.  Even the engine on a fully tested and approved design may take two years to assemble.  A super-jumbo jet can carry 500-800 passengers, depending on configuration, and have a take-off weight of 1.2 million pounds.

Section I will provide a basic overview of the production and metallurgical complexities associated with the manufacture of some hot section components.  Section II will address a unique aspect of jet hot section manufacturing.  Specifically, the complex and exacting standards required to avoid catastrophic in-flight aviation accidents also require the most disciplined adherence to best practices for safety to avoid catastrophic occupational injury, particularly burns, in high temperature work environments.  Section III will briefly discuss the catastrophic burn injuries that result from failure to follow exacting safety precautions.

Section I:  The Hot Section

At the front of the engine, a fan drives air into the engine’s first compartment, the compressor, a space approximately 20 times smaller than the first stage of the compressor.   As the air leaves the high-pressure compressor and enters the combustor, it mixes with fuel and is burned.  As the gas is combusted and expands, some gas passes through the exhaust and some is rerouted to the engine’s turbine (a set of fans that rotate compressor blades).  The turbine extracts energy from the ultra-hot gases to power the compressor shaft and generate power.

Because the turbine is subject to such incredible heat, labyrinthine airways in the turbine blades allow cool air to pass through them to cool the turbine.  With the cooling mechanism of the airstream, the turbine can function in gas streams where the temperature is higher than the melting point of the alloy from which the turbine is made.

Titanium, purified to aviation specifications in the 1950s, is used for the most critical components of the “hot section” such as the combustion chamber and turbine.  The hardness of titanium is difficult to work with, but it is resistant to extreme heat.  It is often alloyed with other metals such as nickel and aluminum for high strength/weight ratios.

Hot Section Component Manufacturing

The intake fan.  The fan must be strong so it does not fracture if large birds or debris are sucked in.  It is made of a titanium alloy.  Each fan blade consists of two skins produced by shaping molten titanium in a hot press.  Each blade skin is welded to a mate, with a hollow cavity in the center being filled with titanium honeycomb.

The compressor disc. This is a solid core, resembling a notched wheel, to which the compressor blades are attached.  It must be free of even minute imperfections, since these could cause creeping or develop into fractures under the tremendous stress of engine operation.  Historically machined, compressor discs are now manufactured through a process called powder metallurgy, which consists of pouring molten metal onto a rapidly rotating turntable that breaks the molten metal into millions of microscopic droplets that are flung back up almost immediately, due to the table’s spinning.  As they leave the turntable, the droplets’ temperature plummets by 2120 degrees Fahrenheit (1000 degrees Celsius) in half a second, causing them to solidify and form a very fine metal powder, which solidifies too quickly to absorb impurities.  The powder is packed into a forming case and vibrated in a vacuum to remove air.  The case is then sealed and heated, under 25,000 pounds of pressure per square, inch into a disc.

Compressor blades.  These blades are still formed by traditional methods of casting.  Alloy is poured into a ceramic mold, heated in a furnace, and cooled.  The mold is broken and blades are machined to final shape, often to exacting tolerances on the order of 7 microns.

Combustion chambers.  Combustion chambers blend air and fuel in small spaces for long periods of time at incredible temperatures.  Titanium is alloyed (to increase ductility) and then heated to liquid before being poured into several complex segment molds.  The segments are welded together after cooling and removal.

The turbine disc and blades.  The turbine disc is formed by the same powder metallurgy used to create the compressor disc.  However, turbine blades are subjected to even greater stress due to the intense heat of the combustor.  Copies of the blades are formed by pouring wax into metal molds.  Once set, the wax shape is removed and immersed in a ceramic slurry bath, forming a ceramic coating.  Each cluster of shapes is heated to harden the ceramic and melt the wax.  Molten metal is then poured into the hollow left by the melted wax.

The metal grains of the blades are then aligned parallel to the blade by directional solidifying, which is important due to the blade stresses.  If the grains are aligned correctly, the blade is much less likely to fracture.  The solidifying process takes place in computer-controlled ovens to precise specifications.  Parallel lines of tiny holes are formed to supplement internal cooling passageways, either by a small laser beam or by spark erosion, where sparks are carefully allowed to eat holes in the blade.

Turbine blades are subject to temperatures of around 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,370 Celsius.  At such temperatures, creep, corrosion, and fatigue failures are all possible.  Thermal barrier coatings, such as aluminide coatings developed during the 1970s, facilitated cooling.  Ceramic coatings developed during the 1980s improved blade capability by about 200 degrees F. and nearly doubled blade life.

Modern turbine blades often use nickel-based superalloys that incorporate chromium, cobalt, and rhenium.  Some superalloys incorporate crystal technology.  Nimonic is another super low-creep superalloy used in turbine blades.  Titanium aluminide, a chemical compound with excellent mechanical properties at elevated temperatures, may replace Ni based superalloys in turbine blades.  GE uses titanium aluminide on low pressure turbine blades on the GEnx engine powering Boeing 787s.  The blades are cast by Precision Castparts Corp.

Exhaust system.  The inner duct and afterburners are molded from titanium, while the outer duct and nacelle are formed from Kevlar, with all components welded into a subassembly.

Section II.  Defects in Both Hot Section Components and Safety Procedures Can Result in Catastrophic Injuries

An imperfection in the hot section, which results, for example, in a blade fracture during flight, or excessive creep, may result in an uncontrolled engine failure, among other catastrophic inflight mishaps, putting lives at risk.  In an interesting corollary, unique to very few manufacturing settings, adherence to the safest manufacturing processes will minimize both product defects and worker injuries, primarily serious burns.

Few Things Drive Higher Verdicts, Workers Compensation Costs, or Settlements, Than Burns

In those industries where “serious large burns” can arbitrarily be defined as full-thickness burns over 20% or more of the total body surface area (TBSA), the location of the burns and the relative availability of certain types of grafts can be outcome determinative and correlate directly with litigation risk, settlements, and verdicts. Most problematic are 4th degree burns to the hands or face, which can never, ever, be fully repaired with current surgical technology or therapeutic treatments.

Skin Graft Classification

There are two common types of skin grafts.  A split-thickness graft (STSG), or mesh graft, includes the epidermis and part of the dermis.  A mesher makes apertures in the graft, allowing it to expand approximately 9 times its original size.

Alternatively, a full thickness skin graft, or sheet graft, which involves pitching and cutting away skin from the donor section, is more risky in terms of rejection.  Yet counter-intuitively, this method leaves a scar only on the donor section, heals more quickly, and is less painful than split-thickness grafting.  This type of grafting, sheet grafting, must be used for hands and faces/heads where graft contraction must be minimized, and it is therefore extremely difficult to achieve in large TBSA burns.

Remedies

Although workers compensation laws will generally bar litigation by workers against their employers, in cases where the exclusive remedy provision of workers compensation does not apply, it is not uncommon in the United States to see burn verdicts or settlements in the millions or even tens of millions of dollars.  Mandatory PPE and best safety practices for dealing with ultra-high temperature work environments can minimize injuries, although the practical reality is that elimination of such injuries remains an aspirational goal.

Steelmaking In The 21st Century: An Ancient Art, A Complex Modern Science, A Danger At Every Stage

Metal briefcase

Product liability lawyers should be familiar with both the dangers and the science of steel manufacturing.  Steel is one of the most indispensable products in the modern world.  Its uses, forms, and composition are limitless.  Like any other product, steel in its final form and use is a “product” subject to the same consumer expectation test in Oregon that applies to household appliances.  However, unlike most other product manufacturing, steel production, which creates the base material for pipe, rails, aviation, and innumerable transportation, mining, oil and gas, and other products, is incredibly dangerous.  Although serious burns might be the most obvious risk, there are also crush, amputation, and a host of other potential injuries which justify the most careful training, exacting safety processes, and best PPE.  This is especially true given the danger posed by the typical 24-hour-a-day production schedules and the undisputed fact that nighttime workers are in more danger than day workers.

Steelmaking Is An Ancient Art

In the ancient world, steelmaking was considered an art, and as the centuries passed, the process became more and more complex.  Steel was known in antiquity and may have been produced by managing bloomeries, or iron-smelting facilities, in which the bloom contained carbon.  Blooms are steel formed into large blocks to which further tempering or chemical procedures can be applied.  The use of blooms persists into the steelmaking of today.

The earliest known example of steel production, thought to be about 4000 years old, is a piece of ironware excavated from an archaeological site in Anatolia (the Asian part of Turkey).  “Ironware piece unearthed from Turkey found to be oldest steel.”  The Hindu (Chennai, India).  The Haya people of East Africa invented a type of furnace that they used to make carbon steel at 3,276 degrees Fahrenheit nearly 2000 years ago.  Africa’s Ancient Steelmakers (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,912179,00.html?promoid=googlep).  Time Magazine September 25, 1978.

What Is Steel?

Steel is an alloy of iron and carbon.  Steelmaking is the process of producing steel from iron and ferrous scrap.  In steelmaking today, impurities such as silicon, phosphorus, and excess carbon are removed from the raw iron, and alloying elements such as manganese, nickel, chromium, and vanadium are added to produce different grades of steel.  Limiting dissolved gasses such as nitrogen and oxygen, and entrained impurities or “inclusions,” in the steel is also important to ensure the quality of the products cast from the liquid steel.  B. Deo and R. Boom, Fundamentals of Steelmaking Metallurgy, Prentice and Hall (1993).

Carbon is the primary alloying element, and its content in steel is between 0.002% and 2.1% by weight.  Additional elements are also present in steel, including manganese, phosphorous, sulfur, silicon, and traces of oxygen, nitrogen, and aluminum.  Carbon and other elements act as hardening agents, preventing dislocations in the iron atom crystal lattice from sliding past one another.

Varying the amount of alloying elements and the form of their presence in the steel (solute elements precipitated phase) controls qualities such as the hardness, ductility, and tensile strength of the resulting steel.  Steel with increased carbon content can be made harder and stronger than iron, but such steel is also less ductile than iron.  Ashby, Michael F. and Jones, David R.H.  Engineering Materials 2 (with corrections ed.) Oxford:  Pergamom Press.  ISBN 0-08-032532-7 (1992 [1986]).

Alloys with a higher than 2.1% carbon content are categorized as cast iron.  Because cast iron is not malleable even when hot, it can be worked only by casting, where it has a lower melting point.  Steel is also distinguishable from wrought iron, which may contain a small amount of carbon.

Even in the narrow range of concentrations that make up steel, mixtures of carbon and iron can form a number of different structures with very different properties.  One of the most important polymorphic forms of steel is martensite, a metastable phase that is significantly stronger than other steel phases.  When the steel is in an austenitic phase and then quenched rapidly, it forms into martensite, as the atoms “freeze” in place when the cell structure changes from FCC to BCC.  Depending on the carbon content, the martensitic phase takes different forms.  Below approximately 2% carbon, it takes a ferrite BCC crystal form, but at a higher carbon content, it takes a body-centered tetragonal (BCT) structure.  There is no thermal activation energy for the transformation from austenite to martensite.  Moreover, there is no compositional change to the atoms, which generally retain their same neighbors.  Smith, William F., Hashemi, Jared, Foundations of Materials Science and Engineering (4th ed 2006) McGraw Hill ISBN 0-07-295358-6.

Special Modern High Performance Alloys

There are a number of extremely complex super-alloys and other metals available today for high performance aviation and other uses, including Transformation Induced Plasticity (TRIP) steel and Twinning Induced Plasticity (TWIP) steel.  A complete discussion of these super-alloys merits a separate article, and one will be forthcoming shortly.

Introduction To The Modern Process

In the modern era, there are two major processes for making steel.  The first is basic oxygen steelmaking, which uses liquid pig iron from the blast furnace and scrap steel for the main feed materials.  Alternatively, iron ore is reduced or smelted with coke and limestone in the blast furnace, producing molten iron that is either cast into pic iron or carried to the next stage as molten iron.  In the second stage, impurities such as sulfur, phosphorus, and excess carbon are removed, and the alloying elements such as manganese, nickel, chromium, and vanadium are added to produce the steel required.  The vast majority of steel in the world is produced using the basic oxygen furnace.  In 2011, approximately 70% of the world’s steel was produced in this way.  R. Fruehan, The Making, Shaping and Treating of Steel (11th ed. AIST 1999).

The second major modern process is electric arc furnace (EAF) steelmaking, which either uses scrap steel or direct reduced iron (DRI) as the main feed material.  Oxygen steelmaking is fuelled predominantly by the exothermic nature of the reactions inside the vessel, whereas in EAF steelmaking, electrical energy is used to melt the solid scrap and/or DRI materials.

In recent times, EAF steelmaking technology has moved closer to Oxygen steelmaking as more chemical energy is introduced into the process.  E.T. Turkdogan, Fundamentals of Steelmaking, IOM (1996).  EAF steelmaking is predominantly used for producing steel from scrap and involves melting scrap, and combining it with iron ore.

Alternatively, the oxygen method can involve melting DRI using electric arcs (either AC or DC).  It is common to start the melt with a “hot heel” (molten steel from a previous heat) and use gas burners to assist with the meltdown of the pile of scrap.  EAF furnaces typically have capacities of around 100 tons every 40 to 50 minutes.

Regardless of the process used, through casting, hot rolling and cold rolling, the steel mill then turns the molten steel into blooms, ingots, slabs, and sheet.

At the typical steel mill, the raw materials are batched into a blast furnace where the iron compounds in the ore give up excess oxygen and become liquid iron.  At intervals of a few hours, the accumulated liquid iron is tapped from the blast furnace and either cast into pig iron or directed to other vessels for further steelmaking operations.  During the casting process, various methods are used, such as the addition of aluminum so that impurities in the steel float to the surface where they can be cut off the finished bloom.

Conclusion

The steelmaking process involves exposure to hundreds of tons of molten metals, often poured manually into ceramic, wax, or other casting forms or hot rolled into shapes.  The potential for catastrophic injury or death is everywhere in the steelmaking process, and it is essential that workers be trained and supervised to avoid lapses in safety that could result in such unfortunate occurrences.  Although automation continuously decreases the exposure of workers to significant injury or death as a result of virtually every phase of the process, the utmost care should still be exercised by all who enter a steel mill.

Independent Medical Examinations and Oregon Law

IME’s: Leveling the Playing Field

With few exceptions, Oregon has no expert discovery.  While Independent Medical Examinations (“IME’s”) are available, the Oregon Plaintiff’s Bar has resisted them consistently and for years has sought conditions such as the presence of “supporters” or plaintiff’s counsel, someone from their office, or audio and/or video recording, etc.  In large personal injury, product liability, or aviation cases where the defense has needed IME’s in a number of medical disciplines, plaintiffs routinely sought to, and successfully blocked multiple specialty IME’s.

Until recently, the plaintiff could retain one or more medical experts, who could then examine the plaintiff without the defendant ever knowing of the examination(s), or at best, only learning as the plaintiff’s surprise medical expert took the stand.  Obviously, it did not work the other way around and any defense IME, which usually required court intervention, would be discoverable to the plaintiff immediately.  Even if the defendant did not request a written report, the defendant’s expert was obligated to provide the report at the plaintiff’s expense.

Plaintiff Must Now Disclose IME’s and Reports, Or Have Plaintiff’s IME Provider Prepare a Report at Reasonable Expense to the Defense

Pursuant to ORCP 36, ORCP 44 and the Oregon Supreme Court’s recent decision in A.G. v. Guitron, 351 Or 465, 268 P3d 589 (2011),  the plaintiff is now required to produce a written report from any and all examining physicians and psychologists who have examined the plaintiff and not yet made a written report.  This includes the obligation to request that any examining physicians and psychologists who have been retained as  experts by the plaintiff, and who have not yet made a written report, prepare a written report of the examination at the defendant’s reasonable cost and produce it to the defendant.

Defendant May Obtain Attorney Fees If a Motion To Compel Is Required

Pursuant to ORCP 46 A(4), the defendant may also move the court for an Order requiring the plaintiff to pay the defendant’s reasonable attorney fees and costs in filing such a motion to compel, given the express language of ORCP 36, ORCP 44 and Guitron.  Unless the court finds that the opposition to the motion was substantially justified or that other circumstances make an award of expenses unjust, it may order the plaintiff and/or the plaintiff’s attorney to pay the defendant’s reasonable expenses incurred in obtaining the Order, including attorney’s fees.

The Oregon Evidence Code Contains an Exception to the Psychotherapist-Patient Privilege in Cases Where Emotional Condition Is At Issue

A plaintiff may argue that the attorney-client privilege protects psychotherapist reports until the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s testifying doctor/therapist takes the stand, thereby waiving the privilege.  However, the Oregon Evidence Code (“OEC”) provides an exception to the psychotherapist-patient privilege asserted by plaintiff.  OEC 504(4)(b) provides that,

“There is no privilege under this rule as to communications relevant to an issue of the mental or emotional condition of the patient[.]”

Defense counsel should also be aware and prepared to argue that, by definition, the work-product privilege codified in ORCP 36 B(3) does not apply to medical records.  Also, while pretrial discovery of non-medical experts is generally not permitted in Oregon, Oregon does not recognize a general “expert” privilege that would relieve plaintiff of all obligations to produce medical records.

ORCP 36 B(1) and ORCP 44 D Make Clear that Plaintiff Does Not Have the Right to Ambush Defendant With a Secret Medical Witness

A plaintiff’s medical records in a personal injury case are relevant and discoverable pursuant to ORCP 36 B(1), which is broad and allows parties discovery “regarding any matter, not privileged, which is relevant” to any claim or defense in the case.  ORCP 36 B(1) further provides that, “It is not ground for objection that the information sought will be inadmissible at the trial if the information sought appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.”

Under ORCP 44 C, “the claimant shall deliver to the requesting party a copy of all written reports and existing notations of any examinations relating to injuries for which recovery is sought * * *.”  Under ORCP 44 D(1), a party may request the report of an “examining physician or psychologist” who has examined the other party for purposes of litigation.   Under the Guitron case, when requested, under the proper predicate circumstances, a plaintiff is required to provide the defense with reports from that plaintiff’s IME physician.  Specifically, the Guitron court held that ORCP 44 C requires plaintiffs “to deliver to defendants, at defendants’ request, a copy of all written reports of examinations related to the psychological injuries for which plaintiff sought recovery, including, specifically, the report of an examination by a psychologist retained by plaintiff’s counsel for the purpose of the litigation.”  351 Or 465, 467.

The court in Guitron affirmed the trial court and the Oregon Court of Appeals’ decision to bar the plaintiff’s psychologist from testifying at trial pursuant to ORCP 44 D because his required written report was not produced to the defendants.  351 Or 465.  The court held that, under ORCP 44 C, plaintiffs are required to produce on request “the reports of the experts who examined them for purposes of litigation as well as for treatment.”  Id. at 485.  As the Guitron court noted, in adopting ORCP 44, the Oregon Legislature limited the reach of the protections of the physician-patient, psychotherapist-patient, and attorney-client privileges, and ordered plaintiff to produce a report that might otherwise have been protected.  351 Or at 484-85.

Plaintiffs Are No Longer Entitled to the Presence of a Supporter During IMEs Unless Extraordinary Circumstances Are Present

On March 7, 2013, The Oregon Supreme Court published an opinion which was a welcome further leveling of the playing field for the defense as it relates to defense-requested IME’s.  The issue of plaintiffs having their counsel or a “supporter” present during defense IME’s has plagued Oregon state civil defense lawyers for decades.

In Lindell v Kalugin, 353 Or 338, 297 P 3d 1266 (2013), the Oregon Supreme Court issued an important en banc opinion for the defense.  The court ruled that a plaintiff is not automatically entitled to be accompanied by counsel or a supporter at an IME requested by the defense.

An ongoing dispute for many years in Oregon is whether a plaintiff’s counsel, family member, or friend can attend a defense-requested IME.  After performing a balancing test, the court ruled that the defense was entitled to have the plaintiff examined without having a family member, friend, or their counsel in attendance.  Id. at 358.  The court noted that this was in part so that the IME examiner, and by extension the defense, could evaluate the true responses of the plaintiff and get a true sense of plaintiff’s condition, unaltered by the presence of the third person.  Id. at 357-58.

The court did not, however, rule that a third party would be prohibited to attend a plaintiff’s IME under any circumstances, but it did rule that the proper showing of need had not been made in the Lindell case.  We do not expect this opinion to alter the customary Oregon practice whereby trial court judges allow the presence of a third person such as a parent in cases involving children or vulnerable adults.

This will likely have particular importance in serious negligence, product liability, and aviation cases where serious injuries are possible and multiple-discipline IME’s are necessary.