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Best practices for enforcement of noncompetition agreements and restrictive covenants

Noncompetition agreements are used routinely by businesses in the United States to protect goodwill, client relationships, trade secrets, confidential and proprietary information, and to develop a competitive advantage.

The validity and enforceability of noncompetition agreements varies according to the jurisdiction of the particular state or federal circuit court.

This article will survey a limited number of states and federal circuits concerning the use and enforcement of noncompetition agreements.  The following jurisdictions will be examined: The First Circuit, the state of Massachusetts, the state of Maine, the Second Circuit, the state of New York, the Ninth Circuit, and the states of California and Oregon.  In each jurisdiction, we will explore the standard aspects of non-competes that courts generally consider, including: reasonableness; duration; protectable interests; modification; and, in some instances, the way that noncompetes are applied in the context of specific professions.

First Circuit

Restrictive covenants “upon an employee’s exercise of a gainful occupation after leaving the employer are, and were at common law considered to be, void as in restraint of trade.”  Am Eutectic Welding Alloys Sales Co., Inc., v. Rodriguez, 480 F.2d 223, 228 (1st Cir. 1973).   However, a court will allow a restrictive covenant or a noncompetition agreement “if the restriction is reasonable, and not wider than is necessary for the protection to which the employer is entitled[.]”  Id.  (Internal quotation marks and citation omitted.)  If there is a valid non-solicitation agreement “and an employee departs for greener pastures, the employer ordinarily has the right to enforce the covenant according to its tenor.”  Corporate Technologies v. Hartnett, 731 F.3d 6, 8 (1st Cir. 2013).


An overly-broad noncompetition agreement “is enforceable to the limited extent reasonable.”  Am Eutectic Welding Alloys Sales Co., Inc., 480 F.2d at 227 (1st Cir. 1973).   Whether an agreement is “reasonable” depends on the facts and circumstances of each case.  Ferrofluidics Corp. v. Advanced Vacuum Components, Inc., 968 F.2d 1463, 1468-69, 1470 (1st Cir. 1992).  The “appropriate inquiry” is “whether the employer has exploited an inherent imbalance by placing deliberately unreasonable and oppressive restraints on the employee.”  Id. at 1470.


Time period must be “reasonable”.  Corporate Technologies , 731 F.3d at 8.  Five years is generally too long.  Ferrofluidics Corp., 968 F.2d at 1469.

Protectable Interests

Goodwill, Corporate Technologies, 731 F.3d at 8; customer lists, id.; confidential information, id. at 14; and trade secrets, Lanier Prof’l Services, Inc., v. Ricci, 192 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 1999), are recognized as protectable interests.  However, a noncompetition agreement “cannot make secret that which is not secret[.]”  Id. at 5 (internal citation and quotation marks omitted).

“The line between solicitation and acceptance of business is a hazy one, and the inquiry into where this line should be drawn in a particular case is best executed by the district court.”  Corporate Technologies, 731 F.3d at 10.   Whoever first makes contact “is just one factor among many that the trial court should consider in drawing the line between solicitation and acceptance in a given case.”  Id. at 12.


A court may modify an overly-broad noncompetition agreement, and the agreement is unenforceable until it is modified.  Astro-Med, Inc., v. Nihon Kohden America, Inc., 591 F.3d 1, 14 (1st Cir. 2009).   Once an agreement has been narrowed by the court, “the breaching party is being held to a more narrowly circumscribed agreement than the one he signed, and the more restrictive terms of the agreement remain as effective as the day they were agreed to.”  Id. at 15.


In deciding whether to enforce a particular agreement, a court considers whether the noncompete “(a) is necessary to protect a legitimate business interest of the employer, (b) is supported by consideration, (c) is reasonably limited in all circumstances, including time and space, and (d) is otherwise consonant with public policy.”  Bowne of Boston, Inc. v. Levine, 1997 WL 781444, at *2 (Mass. Super. Nov. 25, 1997).

Whether the employee or the employer is granted deference in the context of a restrictive covenant or a noncompete can vary in Massachusetts.  For example, according to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, “[e]mployees occupying positions of trust and confidence owe a duty of loyalty to their employer and must protect the interests of the employer.” Chelsea Indus., Inc. v. Gaffney, 449 N.E.2d 320, 326 (Mass. 1983).  In that case, the court also explained that an employee “is bound to act solely for his employer’s benefit in all matters within the scope of his employment”.  Id.  Furthermore, the court in that case explained that an “executive employee is barred from actively competing with his employer during the tenure of his employment, even in the absence of an express covenant so providing .”  Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

However, the Superior Court of Massachusetts has stated that, “Contracts drafted by employers to limit the employment prospects of former employees-even those at a very high level-must be construed narrowly against the employer.”  Veridiem, Inc., v. Phelan, No. 034418BLS, 2003 WL 22481390, *3 (Mass. Super. Sept. 26, 2003).

Generally, a noncompete that is “contained in a contract for personal services will be enforced if it is reasonable, based on all the circumstances.”  All Stainless, Inc. v. Colby, 308 N.E.2d 481, 485 (Mass. 1974).

In order to determine whether to enforce a noncompete, “the reasonable needs of the former employer for protection against harmful conduct of the former employee must be weighed against both the reasonableness of the restraint imposed on the former employee and the public interest.”  Id.  If the employer “has protectable and legitimate business interests, the employer’s reasonable need to protect its business interests must then be weighed against the reasonableness of the restraints imposed by the noncompete covenant as well as any public interests that may be at stake.”  Boch Toyota, Inc. v. Klimoski, 18 Mass. L. Rep. 80, 2004 WL 1689770 , *4 (Mass. Super. 2004).

Courts “look less critically” at covenants “arising primarily out of the sale of a business”. Alexander & Alexander, Inc. v. Danahy, 488 N.E.2d 22, 29 (Mass. App. 1986).  However, “any covenant restricting competition is to be enforced only to the extent that it is reasonable in time and space, necessary to protect legitimate interests, and not an obstruction of the public interest.”  Id.


“What is reasonable depends on the facts in each case.”  Novelty Bias Binding Co. v. Shevrin, 175 N.E.2d 374, 376 (Mass. 1961).  Reasonableness of restrictions is determined with reference to “the nature of the [employer’s] business * * * the character of employment involved * * * the situation of the parties, the necessity of the restriction for the protection of the employer’s business and the right of the employee to work and earn a livelihood.”  Richmond Bros. Inc. v. Westinghouse Broadcasting Co., 256 N.E.2d 304, 307 (Mass. 1970).

A noncompete is likely to be deemed reasonable if it has a “narrow geographic scope” and a “relatively short time frame.”  Boch Toyota, Inc., 18 Mass. L. Rptr. 80, 2004 WL 1689770 at *4 (Mass. Super., June 28, 2004) (upholding a covenant not to compete spanning a duration of twelve months and a geographic scope of thirty-five miles).  Generally, a noncompete is “reasonable if its purpose is to protect an employer’s legitimate business interests.”  Id. at *3.

Courts will uphold broader restrictions outside of the conventional limits of the employer-employee relationship, e.g., in the context of the sale of a business.  “Concern about the restricted individual and the probability of unequal bargaining power between an employer and an employee recedes when the restriction arises in the context of the sale of a business or * * * the sale of an interest in a business.”  Wells v. Wells, 400 N.E.2d 1317, 1319 (Mass. App. 1980).  Therefore, courts will usually look “more critically” at the circumstances of restraints placed on employees in a post-employment context.  Id.

In analyzing restrictions imposed as part of the sale of a business, courts “consider whether the parties entered into the agreement with the assistance of counsel and without compulsion (an element frequently not present in the employer-employee context).”  Boulanger v. Dunkin’ Donuts, Inc., 815 N.E.2d 572, 577 (Mass. 2004) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).


“Each time an employee’s employment relationship with the employer changes materially such that they have entered into a new employment relationship a new restrictive covenant must be signed.”  Lycos, Inc. v. Jackson, 2004 WL 2341335, at *3, 18 Mass. L. Rep. 256 (Mass. Super. Aug. 25, 2004); see also Cypress Group, Inc. v. Stride & Assocs., Inc., 17 Mass. L. Rptr. 436, 2004 WL 616302 (Mass. Super.  Feb. 11, 2004) (same). Similarly, in F.A. Bartlett Tree Expert Co. v. Barrington, 233 N.E.2d 756 (Mass. 1968), the Massachusetts Supreme Court voided an employment agreement containing a restrictive covenant because there were subsequent changes in the defendant’s employment that changed the employment relationship.  In particular, the court noted that “the defendant’s rate of compensation and sales area were changed” and “[s]uch far reaching changes strongly suggest that the parties had abandoned their old arrangement and had entered into a new relationship.”  Id. at 758.

In an employment context, a five-year restriction will generally be found to be unreasonable, whereas a three-year restriction will generally be found to be reasonable.  Richmond Bros., Inc. v. Westinghouse Broadcasting Co., 256 N.E.2d 304, 307 (Mass. 1970) (five-year restriction unreasonable; court refused to enforce remaining two years on a five-year non-competition agreement for a radio broadcaster where he had complied with the agreement for almost three-year period); Wrentham Co. v. Cann, 189 N.E.2d 559, 562 (Mass. 1963) (five-year restriction unreasonable; affirmed enforcement of non-competition agreement for three years).

However, in the context of a sale of a business, restrictions for five years or more are more likely to be upheld as reasonable.  Alexander & Alexander, Inc. v. Danahv, 488 N.E.2d 22, 29-30 (Mass. App. 1986) (upholding customer-based covenant for five-year period; finding it was not unreasonable to include prospective customers within the ban and finding covenants were not unreasonably restrictive despite the fact they prevented individuals from “receiving” business; holding that in the context of the sale of a business, a covenant not to compete was proper where the seller received proceeds from the business); Bonneau v. Meaney, 178 N.E.2d 577, 579 (Mass. 1961) (enforcing 20-year non-competition agreement made in connection with sale of telephone answering service business);

Protectable Interests

Goodwill, “confidential or proprietary business information”, “customer or supplier lists”, Boch Toyota, Inc., 2004 WL 1689770 at *3, and trade secrets, RE/MAX of New England, Inc. v. Prestige Real Estate, Inc., 2014 WL 3058295, at *3 (D. Mass. July 7, 2014), are all protectable interests.

However, “skill and intelligence acquired or increased and improved through experience or through instruction received in the course of employment” are not protectible interests.  National Hearing Aid Centers, Inc. v. Ayers, 311 N.E.2d 573, 578 (Mass. 1974).


A noncompete may be enforced in whole or in part.  All Stainless, Inc., 308 N.E.2d 481, 485.  “If the covenant is too broad in time, in space or in any other respect, it will be enforced only to the extent that is reasonable and to the extent that it is severable for the purposes of enforcement.”  Id.

Specific Professions

Doctors—Noncompetes are void.  Falmouth Ob-Gyn Assocs., Inc. v. Abisla, 629 N.E.2d 291, 293-94 (Mass. 1994) (noncompete was unenforceable because the Massachusetts physician non-competition statute prohibits “any restriction” on the ability of physicians to practice).

Nurses—Noncompetes are void.  Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 112, § 74D (1983).  That statue provides that:

“Any contract or agreement which creates or establishes the terms of a partnership, employment, or any other form of professional relationship with a nurse registered to practice as a registered nurse pursuant to section seventy-four, or a practical nurse registered to practice as a licensed practical nurse pursuant to section seventy-four A, which includes any restriction of the right of such nurse to practice as a nurse in any geographical area for any period of time after the termination of such partnership, employment or professional relationship shall be void and unenforceable with respect to said restriction. Nothing in this section shall render void or unenforceable any other provision of any such contract or agreement.”

Broadcasters—Noncompetes are void.  Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 149, § 186 (1998).  That statute provides that:

“Any contract or agreement which creates or establishes the terms of employment for an employee or individual in the broadcasting industry, including, television stations, television networks, radio stations, radio networks, or any entities affiliated with the foregoing, and which restricts the right of such employee or individual to obtain employment in a specified geographic area for a specified period of time after termination of employment of the employee by the employer or by termination of the employment relationship by mutual agreement of the employer and the employee or by termination of the employment relationship by the expiration of the contract or agreement, shall be void and unenforceable with respect to such provision. Whoever violates the provisions of this section shall be liable for reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs associated with litigation of an affected employee or individual.”

Social workers—Noncompetes are void.  Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 112, § 135C.  That statute provides that:

A contract or agreement creating or establishing the terms of a partnership, employment, or any other form of professional relationship with a social worker licensed under this chapter that includes a restriction of the right of the social worker to practice in any geographic area for any period of time after termination of the partnership, employment or professional relationship shall be void and unenforceable with respect to that restriction. This section shall not render void or unenforceable the remainder of the contract or agreement.

Attorneys—Noncompetes are void.  Meehan v. Shaughnessy, 535 N.E.2d 1255, 1262 (Mass. 1989).  In that case, the court explained that, ethically, “a lawyer may not participate in an agreement which restricts the right of a lawyer to practice law after the termination of a relationship created by the agreement.”  The court found that this rule protects the public.  Id.


Generally, in Maine, covenants not to compete “are contrary to public policy and will be enforced only to the extent that they are reasonable and sweep no wider than necessary to protect the business interests in issue.”  Chapman & Drake v. Harrington, 545 A.2d 645, 647 (Me. 1988) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted).  The reasonableness of a noncompetition agreement “is a question of law to be determined by the court.”  Id.  A party may show reasonableness by developing case-specific facts regarding the noncompete’s “duration, geographic area and the interests sought to be protected.”  Id.  Because Maine “law does not favor non-competition agreements * * * it requires that such agreements be construed narrowly and technically.”  Id.


Chapman & Drake illustrates the way that Maine courts look at the reasonableness of noncompetition agreements.  In that case, the court explained that, “There is further support for the reasonableness of a covenant not to compete when the employee limited thereby has had access to his employer’s confidential information, including customer lists, and is in a position after leaving his employer to take advantage of that information.”  Id. at 647.


Although the noncompetition agreement in that case did not contain a geographical limitation, the court found that it was reasonable because it was negotiated by both parties—the employee and the employer—and it “simply” prohibited the employee from “soliciting or accepting” the employer’s customers.  Id. at 648.  Therefore, the employee was not overly burdened by the noncompete and the noncompete did not violate public policy.  Id. at 648-49.

In Flaherty v. Libby, 81 A. 166, 167 (Me. 1911), the court found that it is “customary and oftentimes necessary that a person purchasing the business of another, with the good will that should follow the transaction, enters into an agreement with the seller, whereby the seller is restricted from engaging in a similar business within specified districts.”

However, “protecting an employer from business competition is not a legitimate business interest to be advanced by” a noncompete.  Brignull v. Albert, 666 A.2d 82, 84 (Me. 1995).

Although the noncompete at issue in Chapman & Drake was for five years, the court found that the duration was not per se unreasonable because the agreement did not preclude the employee from selling insurance—it only precluded him from doing business with people who were customers of the employer at the time that the employee worked for the employer.  545 A.2d  at 648.  The court also found that, “As enforced, the five-year limit also is reasonably related to protecting recognized legitimate business interests of” the employer.  Id.

Protectable interests

The sale and protection of goodwill are interests that may be protected by noncompetes. Flaherty, 81 A. at 167 (sale of goodwill); Brignull, 666 A.2d at 84 (protection of goodwill).  Trade secrets are also protectable interests.  Roy v. Bolduc, 34 A.2d 479, 481 (Me. 1943).  A “list of current patients” is a protectable business interest.  Brignull, 666 A.2d at 84.


If a court finds that a noncompete is overbroad, the agreement may be modified and enforced to the extent reasonable. Lord v. Lord, 454 A.2d 830, 834 (Me. 1983).  Maine courts will evaluate the reasonableness of a noncompetition clause as the employer seeks to apply it, as opposed to how it is written and may be hypothetically applied. Brignull, 666 A.2d at 84; Prescott v. Ross, 383 F.Supp.2d 180, 190 (D. Me. 2005).  However, the court will not impose its own draft of an overly broad provision on the parties.  Prescott v. Ross, 390 F.Supp.2d 44, 47 (D. Me. 2005).  Instead, the party seeking to enforce the noncompete, may only rely on the court to narrow the scope of the noncompete.  Id.

Second Circuit

Generally, noncompetition agreements “are narrowly construed by the courts” in the Second Circuit, “and must contain time, geographic and/or industry limitations”.  A.N. Deringer, Inc. v. Strough, 103 F.3d 243, 248 (2d Cir. 1996).

The Second Circuit generally disfavors noncompetes in the employment context, and enforces them only to the extent that they are reasonable and necessary to protect valid interests.  AM Media Communications Group v. Kilgallen, 261 F.Supp.2d 258 (S.D.N.Y. 2003).


In evaluating whether a noncompete is reasonable, “courts must weigh the need to protect the employer’s legitimate business interests against the employee’s concern regarding the possible loss of livelihood.”  Ticor Title Ins. Co. v. Cohen, 173 F.3d 63, 69 (2d Cir. 1999).

A ten-mile geographic restriction is reasonable.  Singas Famous Pizza Brands Corp. v. N.Y. Adver. LLC, 468 Fed. Appx. 43, 2012 WL 89923, *3 (2d Cir. Mar. 19, 2012)


Generally short periods of time will be found reasonable.  A.N. Deringer, Inc., 103 F.3d at 248 (no one disputed that 90 days was reasonable).

Protectable Interests

Protectable interests include confidential information, A.N. Deringer, Inc., 103 F.3d at 248; “institutional know-how, reputation, and goodwill”, Singas, 468 Fed. Appx. 43, 2012 WL 89923 at *3; and “confidential information, such as customer lists and other confidential information not generally known to the public”, Am. Fed. Grp., Ltd. v. Rothenberg (American Federal Group 1), 136 F.3d 897, 906 (2d Cir. 1998).


“Generally, a contract will not be regarded as severable unless (1) the parties’ performances can be apportioned into corresponding pairs of partial performances, and (2) the parts of each pair can be treated as agreed equivalents.”  Ginett v. Computer Task Group, Inc., 962 F.2d 1085, 1098 (2d Cir. 1992)

New York

Covenants not to compete were at one time disfavored by New York courts.  Purchasing Assocs., Inc. v. Weitz, 196 N.E.2d 245, 247-48 (N.Y. 1963).  However, noncompetes are now generally enforced under New York law as long as they are reasonable and protect legitimate business interests.  Id.  Broad noncompete agreements are likely to be viewed more favorably in the context of the sale of a business as opposed to an employee who has signed an employer-drafted noncompete.  Id.  In the context of an employee who has signed an employer-drafted noncompete, those agreements are likely to be upheld if they are narrow in scope.  Id.  “Thus, a covenant by which an employee simply agrees, as a condition of his employment, not to compete with his employer after they have severed relations is not only subject to the overriding limitation of ‘reasonableness’ but is enforced only to the extent

necessary to prevent the employee’s use or disclosure of his former employer’s trade secrets, processes, or formulae * * * or his solicitation of, or disclosure of any information concerning, the other’s customers * * *.”  Id.  However, if “the employee’s services are deemed ‘special, unique or extraordinary,’ then, the covenant may be enforced by injunctive relief, if ‘reasonable,’ even though the employment did not involve the possession of trade secrets or confidential customer lists.”  Id.


Generally, “reasonable” means, “not more extensive, in terms of time and space, than is reasonably necessary” to protect legitimate business interests.  Purchasing Assocs., Inc., 196 N.E.2d at 247-48.

Under New York law, “The modern, prevailing common-law standard of reasonableness for employee agreements not to compete applies a three-pronged test. A restraint is reasonable only if it: (1) is no greater than is required for the protection of the legitimate interest of the employer, (2) does not impose undue hardship on the employee, and (3) is not injurious to the public. A violation of any prong renders the covenant invalid.” BDO Seidman v. Hirshberg, 712 N.E.2d 1220, 1223 (N.Y. 1999) (emphasis in original).  Therefore, “a restrictive covenant will only be subject to specific enforcement to the extent that it is reasonable in time and area, necessary to protect the employer’s legitimate interests, not harmful to the general public and not unreasonably burdensome to the employee.”  Id.  (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

Broad restrictive covenants are not likely to be enforced.  Id.

It is unreasonable to restrict competition in a case where the former employee gained clients with whom he did not have a relationship prior to leaving his former employer.  Id. at 1225  (explaining that, “it would be unreasonable to extend the covenant to personal clients of defendant who came to the firm solely to avail themselves of his services and only as a result of his own independent recruitment efforts, which BDO neither subsidized nor otherwise financially supported as part of a program of client development.”).


“To impose a continuing restraint beyond the period agreed upon is contrary to the agreement and not equitable.”  DeLong Corp. v. Lucas, 176 F.Supp. 104, 126 (S.D.N.Y. 1959), aff d, 278 F.2d 804 (2d Cir. 1960), aff’d, 364 U.S. 833, 81 S. Ct. 71, 5 L. Ed.2d 58 (1960).

However, in dealing with restrictive covenants between professionals, courts are not opposed to long durations, particularly when the restrictions are geographically limited or in rural areas.  BDO Seidman, 712 N.E.2d at 1223 (explaining that the court has upheld even permanent restrictions as well as restrictions for five years in rural locations).  Accountants are considered professionals in this context.  Id.  However, courts are not as likely to uphold lengthy restrictions in large metropolitan areas.  Id. at 1224.

Protectable Interests

Protectable interests include the sale of goodwill, Purchasing Assocs., Inc., 196 N.E.2d at 247-48; the employer’s trade secrets or “confidential customer lists, or protection from competition by a former employee whose services are unique or extraordinary”, BDO Seidman, 712 N.E.2d at 1223.

Customer lists are only protectable if they are trade secrets or are confidential.  Briskin v. All Seasons Servs., Inc., 206 A.D.2d 906, 906 (1994).  However, “an employer has sufficient interest in retaining present customers to support an employee covenant where the employee’s relationship with the customers is such that there is a substantial risk that the employee may be able to divert all or part of the business”  Service Systems Corp. v. Harris, 41 A.D.2d 20, 23-24 (1973).


New York courts exercise their “judicial power to sever and grant partial enforcement for an overbroad employee restrictive covenant.”  BDO Seidman, 712 N.E.2d at 1226.

Under New York law, if the noncompete is overly broad, the court will not simply invalidate it.  Id.  Rather, when

“the unenforceable portion is not an essential part of the agreed exchange, a court should conduct a case specific analysis, focusing on the conduct of the employer in imposing the terms of the agreement (see, Restatement [Second] of Contracts § 184).  Under this approach, if the employer demonstrates an absence of overreaching, coercive use of dominant bargaining power, or other anti-competitive misconduct, but has in good faith sought to protect a legitimate business interest, consistent with reasonable standards of fair dealing, partial enforcement may be justified”

Id. (some internal citations omitted.)

The Ninth Circuit

As explained in further detail below, the Ninth Circuit’s interpretation of a restrictive covenant or noncompetition agreement depends entirely on the state law that governs the agreement.  Generally, “Covenants by an employee not to compete have never been especially favored in equity but may be enforced if not unreasonable and if not broader than required for the employer’s protection.  There is no reason, however, to enforce a covenant which by its terms is no longer in effect.” Econ. Lab., Inc. v. Donnolo, 612 F.2d 405, 408 (9th Cir. 1979).


Whether a noncompete is reasonable is either a question of fact or a question of law, depending upon the state law that governs the agreement.  Rent-A-Center, Inc. v. Canyon TV and Appliance Rental, Inc., 944 F.2d 597, 600 (9th Cir. 1991.)  Once the court determines the standard of review, it will use the appropriate state’s law to determine whether the agreement is reasonable.  Id.

Protectable Interests

The court will evaluate whether the interests that the employer or the drafter of the agreement seeks to protect are actually protectable under the applicable state law.  Safelite Glass Corp. v. Crawford, 25 Fed.Appx. 613, 2002 WL 22342, *1 (9th Cir., January 8, 2002).


The acceptable duration for a restrictive covenant or noncompetition agreement depends on the applicable state law, particularly what that state regards as reasonable in a restrictive covenant context.  Henry Hope X–Ray Prod., Inc. v. Marron Carrel, Inc., 674 F.2d 1336, 1342 (9th Cir. 1982).


The court will use the applicable state’s law to determine the scope, if any, of modification for a restrictive covenant or noncompete.  Four Seasons Freight Services, Inc. v. Haralson, 96 F.3d 1451, 1996 WL 506182, *1 (9th Cir., September 4, 1996).


California has statutes regarding restrictive covenants and noncompetes.  Generally, “there exists a clear legislative declaration of public policy against covenants not to compete.”  D’sa v. Playhut, Inc., 85 Cal. App. 4th 927, 933 (2000).  For example, California’s Business and Professions Code, section 16600, provides that, “Except as provided in this chapter, every contract by which anyone is restrained from engaging in a lawful profession, trade, or business of any kind is to that extent void.”

California allows noncompetes when selling a business.  Specifically, California’s Business and Professions Code, section 16601, provides that:

“Any person who sells the goodwill of a business, or any owner of a business entity selling or otherwise disposing of all of his or her ownership interest in the business entity, or any owner of a business entity that sells (a) all or substantially all of its operating assets together with the goodwill of the business entity, (b) all or substantially all of the operating assets of a division or a subsidiary of the business entity together with the goodwill of that division or subsidiary, or (c) all of the ownership interest of any subsidiary, may agree with the buyer to refrain from carrying on a similar business within a specified geographic area in which the business so sold, or that of the business entity, division, or subsidiary has been carried on, so long as the buyer, or any person deriving title to the goodwill or ownership interest from the buyer, carries on a like business therein.”

Under section 16601, in order to uphold a noncompete, “The transaction must clearly establish that it falls within this limited exception.  The practical effect of the transaction and the economic realities must be considered.”  Hill Med. Corp. v. Wycoff, 86 Cal. App. 4th 895, 903 (2001).  Courts will evaluate whether goodwill was considered in determining the sales price “[i]n order to restrain the seller’s profession, trade, or business”.  Id.  In other words, there must be a showing that the buyers were entitled to protection “from competition from the seller which competition would have the effect of reducing the value of the property right that was acquired.”  Id. (internal citations and quotation marks omitted.)

Similarly, when a seller transfers all of her corporate shares and when those shares constitute only a small amount of the corporate shares, the court should evaluate the agreement according to the same factors, specifically, “did the transaction take into account corporate goodwill?”  Id. at 903-04.   The seller must have sold “the goodwill of the corporation.”  Id. at 904 (internal citation and quotation marks omitted).  In other words:

“Simply selling shares to an individual vendee or back to the corporation does not necessarily demonstrate that goodwill is part of the agreement. To hold otherwise, would result in the enforceability of all covenants not to compete involving the sale of all of the vendors shares, in violation of the purposes behind sections 16600 and 16601.”

Wycoff, 86 Cal. App. 4th at 904.

Noncompetes are also allowed in the context of the dissolution of a partnership (Cal. Bus. & Prof. § 16602), or the sale or dissolution of a limited liability corporation (Id. at § 16602.5).

Attempts have been made to persuade courts to adopt “a narrow-restraint exception to section 16600”, Ret. Group v. Galante, 176 Cal. App. 4th 1226, 1236 (2009), but courts have generally held that, “Section 16600 is unambiguous, and if the Legislature intended the statute to apply only to restraints that were unreasonable or overbroad, it could have included language to that effect.” Id.  In Galante, the court left “it to the Legislature, if it chooses, either to relax the statutory restrictions or adopt additional exceptions to the prohibition-against-restraint rule under section 16600.”  Id.


Generally, the above statutes will control the validity of a restrictive covenant.  However, “time, circumstances and public policy may change the reasonable interpretation of a  restrictive covenant.”  Welsch v. Goswick, 130 Cal. App. 3d 398, 405-06 (1982).  For example, in Welsch, the court looked at “whether social, economic and legal conditions have changed such that the covenant, limiting use of subdivision lots to single-family residential purposes, would currently be interpreted to prohibit operation of a residential care facility serving six or fewer persons.”  Id. at 406.

Protectable Interests

Goodwill is protectable, as explained above.  Trade secrets are also protectable.  “[It is not the solicitation of the former employer’s customers, but is instead the misuse of trade secret information, that may be enjoined.  Galante, 176 Cal. App. 4th at 1237 (emphasis in original).

Customer lists constitute trade secrets and are protectable.  Id. at 1238.  As long as the customer lists do not contain public information that is “readily ascertainable”, or easily identifiable, the lists may be protected.  Id. (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

Preventing disruption in the workplace is generally a protectable interest.  “The restriction presumably was sought by plaintiffs in order to maintain a stable work force and enable the employer to remain in business.”  Loral Corp. v. Moyes, 174 Cal. App. 3d 268, 280 (1985).


“[D]uration alone of a restrictive agreement is not determinative of its enforceability.  Id. at 279.


“Generally, courts reform contracts only where the parties have made a mistake and not for the purpose of saving an illegal contract.”  Kolani v. Gluska, 64 Cal. App. 4th 402, 406-07 (1998) (internal citations omitted).  Courts may save noncompetes by narrowly construing them, but they will do so only when the contract is not statutorily void (a court could save a noncompete if, for example, it is ancillary to the sale of goodwill and not invalid on its face).  Id. at 407.  Courts have ‘blue penciled’ noncompetition covenants with overbroad or omitted geographic and time restrictions to include reasonable limitations.”  Strategix, Ltd. v. Infocrossing W., Inc., 142 Cal. App. 4th 1068, 1074 (2006).

Specific Professions

Lawyers—Lawyers generally may not be restricted from practicing.  Howard v. Babcock, 6 Cal. 4th 409, 416 (1993).  However, “An agreement that assesses a reasonable cost against a partner who chooses to compete with his or her former partners does not restrict the practice of law. Rather, it attaches an economic consequence to a departing partner’s unrestricted choice to pursue a particular kind of practice.”  Id. at 419.

Accountants—Accountants may be restricted if they withdraw from a partnership and if the noncompete is limited to a small geographic area.  Id. at 416.

Doctors—Doctors generally may not be restricted from practicing, “but a withdrawing partner may contract that if he exercises that privilege he will compensate his former partners to some extent at least for the business which he expects to take from them.  Id. (internal citation and quotation marks omitted).


Noncompetes in an employment context are governed by a lengthy statute, ORS 653.295, which provides that:

“(1) A noncompetition agreement entered into between an employer and employee is voidable and may not be enforced by a court of this state unless:

“(a)(A) The employer informs the employee in a written employment offer received by the employee at least two weeks before the first day of the employee’s employment that a noncompetition agreement is required as a condition of employment; or

“(B) The noncompetition agreement is entered into upon a subsequent bona fide advancement of the employee by the employer;

“(b) The employee is a person described in ORS 653.020(3);

“(c) The employer has a protectable interest. As used in this paragraph, an employer has a protectable interest when the employee:

“(A) Has access to trade secrets, as that term is defined in ORS 646.461;

“(B) Has access to competitively sensitive confidential business or professional information that otherwise would not qualify as a trade secret, including product development plans, product launch plans, marketing strategy or sales plans; or

“(C) Is employed as an on-air talent by an employer in the business of broadcasting and the employer:

“(i) In the year preceding the termination of the employee’s employment, expended resources equal to or exceeding 10 percent of the employee’s annual salary to develop, improve, train or publicly promote the employee, provided that the resources expended by the employer were expended on media that the employer does not own or control; and

“(ii) Provides the employee, for the time the employee is restricted from working, the greater of compensation equal to at least 50 percent of the employee’s annual gross base salary and commissions at the time of the employee’s termination or 50 percent of the median family income for a four-person family, as determined by the United States Census Bureau for the most recent year available at the time of the employee’s termination; and

“(d) The total amount of the employee’s annual gross salary and commissions, calculated on an annual basis, at the time of the employee’s termination exceeds the median family income for a four-person family, as determined by the United States Census Bureau for the most recent year available at the time of the employee’s termination. This paragraph does not apply to an employee described in paragraph (c)(C) of this subsection.

“(2) The term of a noncompetition agreement may not exceed 18 months from the date of the employee’s termination. The remainder of a term of a noncompetition agreement in excess of 18 months is voidable and may not be enforced by a court of this state.

“(3) Subsections (1) and (2) of this section apply only to noncompetition agreements made in the context of an employment relationship or contract and not otherwise.

“(4) Subsections (1) and (2) of this section do not apply to:

“(a) Bonus restriction agreements, which are lawful agreements that may be enforced by the courts in this state; or

“(b) A covenant not to solicit employees of the employer or solicit or transact business with customers of the employer.

“(5) Nothing in this section restricts the right of any person to protect trade secrets or other proprietary information by injunction or any other lawful means under other applicable laws.

“(6) Notwithstanding subsection (1)(b) and (d) of this section, a noncompetition agreement is enforceable for the full term of the agreement, for up to 18 months, if the employer provides the employee, for the time the employee is restricted from working, the greater of:

“(a) Compensation equal to at least 50 percent of the employee’s annual gross base salary and commissions at the time of the employee’s termination; or

“(b) Fifty percent of the median family income for a four-person family, as determined by the United States Census Bureau for the most recent year available at the time of the employee’s termination.

“(7) As used in this section:

“(a) “Bonus restriction agreement” means an agreement, written or oral, express or implied, between an employer and employee under which:

“(A) Competition by the employee with the employer is limited or restrained after termination of employment, but the restraint is limited to a period of time, a geographic area and specified activities, all of which are reasonable in relation to the services described in subparagraph (B) of this paragraph;

“(B) The services performed by the employee pursuant to the agreement include substantial involvement in management of the employer’s business, personal contact with customers, knowledge of customer requirements related to the employer’s business or knowledge of trade secrets or other proprietary information of the employer; and

“(C) The penalty imposed on the employee for competition against the employer is limited to forfeiture of profit sharing or other bonus compensation that has not yet been paid to the employee.

“(b) ‘Broadcasting’ means the activity of transmitting of any one-way electronic signal by radio waves, microwaves, wires, coaxial cables, wave guides or other conduits of communications.

“(c) ‘Employee’ and ‘employer’ have the meanings given those terms in ORS 652.310.

“(d) ‘Noncompetition agreement’ means an agreement, written or oral, express or implied, between an employer and employee under which the employee agrees that the employee, either alone or as an employee of another person, will not compete with the employer in providing products, processes or services that are similar to the employer’s products, processes or services for a period of time or within a specified geographic area after termination of employment.”

ORS 653.295 is construed broadly, and applies to non-solicitation agreements. First Allmerica Fin. Life Ins. Co. v. Sumner, 212 F. Supp. 2d 1235, 1238 (D. Or. 2002) (stating that, “Plaintiffs’ attempt to draw a distinction between a prohibition against solicitation of former employees and a prohibition against inducing customers to terminate their relationship with the plaintiffs is misplaced given the Oregon court’s broad construction of the statutory reach of ORS 653.295.”).

Under ORS 653.295(1)(a), “Any non-de minimis delay, between the commencement of employment and when the agreement was signed, is fatal.” Konecranes, Inc. v. Scott Sinclair, 340 F. Supp. 2d 1126, 1129 (D. Or. 2004)

If an employee refuses to sign a noncompete and is fired, there is no claim for wrongful discharge.  Dymock v. Norwest Safety Protective Equip. for Oregon Indus., Inc., 45 P.3d 114, 116 (Or. 2002) (stating that, “Because ORS 653.295 does not confer on plaintiff the right to refuse to sign the agreement that is at issue in this case * * * our inquiry is at an end. Plaintiff has failed to state a claim for wrongful discharge.”).

The noncompete is enforceable even if the employee is fired.  Nike, Inc. v. McCarthy, 285 F. Supp. 2d 1242, 1246 (D. Or. 2003) aff’d, 379 F.3d 576 (9th Cir. 2004).  In McCarthy, the court explained that:

“Similarly, the fact that defendant may have been forced out of the company bears no direct relation to the validity of the contract—the severance pay package alleviates any unfairness, unconscionability or “unclean hands” in enforcing the non-compete for a 1–year period. Further, nothing in the terms of the contract invalidates its provisions based upon the voluntary or involuntary nature of defendant’s separation from the company.”


Choice of law is generally not an issue because Oregon courts will likely always interpret noncompetes according to Oregon law.  ORS 653.295(1) (which states that a noncompete “may not be enforced by a court of this state” unless it meets the statutory requirements.  Similarly, “An Oregon employer cannot circumvent Oregon laws designed to protect Oregon workers simply by decreeing that the laws of another state will apply.  Konecranes, 340 F. Supp. 2d at 1130.


“A noncompetition provision in an employment contract is a covenant in restraint of trade.”  Volt Servs. Grp., Div. of Volt Mgmt. Corp. v. Adecco Employment Servs., Inc., 35 P.3d 329, 333 (Or. App. 2001).  In order for a noncompete to be valid, three requirements must be met:

“(1) it must be partial or restricted in its operation in respect either to time or place; (2) it must come on good consideration; and (3) it must be reasonable, that is, it should afford only a fair protection to the interests of the party in whose favor it is made, and must not be so large in its operation as to interfere with the interests of the public.”

  1. P. Lumber Co. v. Moore, 551 P.2d 431, 434 (Or. 1976) (citing Eldridge et al. v. Johnston, 245 P.2d 239, 250 (1952)).

These requirements must be met “[e]ven if the covenant not to compete is not void under section 653.295[.]”  McCarthy, 379 F.3d at 584.

Whether a noncompete is reasonable “must be determined in view of what is reasonably necessary to safeguard the employer’s protectible interest.”  Volt Servs. Grp., 35 P.3d at 334.

A noncompete without geographic limitation is not automatically void.  Renzema v. Nichols, 731 P.2d 1048, 1049 (Or. App. 1987).  “If possible, the noncompetition clause should be interpreted so as to make the extent of its operation reasonable.”  Id.  Whether the noncompete is reasonable will depend on the facts.  Id.

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.


Component Part Manufacturer Liability in Oregon

Oregon Did Not Adopt Caveat (3) In Its Adoption of The Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 402A (1965)

Component part liability is important in products liability cases and especially in aviation cases, where the aircraft may have a long air-frame life but require service or replacements of hundreds of parts over its years of service.  Although Oregon adopted the Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 402A contains a caveat (Caveat 3 (1965)) regarding whether strict liability should be extended to component part manufacturers.  The Oregon Legislature, however, did not adopt this caveat as an interpretive guide for the courts.  Therefore, both pre-codification and post-codification Oregon Supreme Court rulings hold that strict liability can extend to component part manufacturers for the sale of defective components.  See State ex rel Hydraulic Servocontrols v. Dale, 294 Or 381 (1982); Smith v. J.C. Penney Co., 269 Or 643 (1974) (fabric manufacturer held liable because of flammable character of fabric, even though fabric was sold to the coat manufacturer before reaching consumer).  If the component part is dangerously defective and it causes injury, the component part manufacturer (or seller or distributor) is subject to liability.

Oregon law also follows the Restatement (Third) of Torts: Products Liability, which takes the position that if the component part is defective and causes injury, the component part manufacturer (or seller or distributor) is subject to liability.  Additionally, if the component part manufacturer “substantially participates in the integration of the component into the design of the product,” the component manufacturer is subject to liability. Restatement (Third) Of Torts: Products Liability § 5 (1998).

Oregon Law Involving Alleged Misapplication of a Raw Material:  Misapplication of a Raw Material Does Not Give Rise To Liability As To the Supplier

The manufacturer of a component part, however, is not subject to strict liability if the component was misapplied rather than defectively designed.  In Hoyt v. Vitek, Inc., 134 Or App 271 (1995), after experiencing problems with her temporomandibular joint (TMJ), the joint that connects the jaw bone to the skull, the plaintiff, Hoyt, had a prosthetic device implanted in her jaw.  The device gradually fragmented and released particles of Teflon, which caused a serious adverse reaction.  Du Pont Company manufactured Teflon and sold it to Vitek, Inc., which used the Teflon as a component part in its TMJ device.

Vitek designed, manufactured and marketed the device.  In 1977 DuPont informed Vitek that it manufactured Teflon for industrial purposes only and had sought no FDA rulings on the safety or effectiveness of surgical uses, and that Vitek would have to rely on its own medical and legal judgment.  Du Pont was aware of studies that warned of abrasion and fragmentation with medical Teflon implants and passed along this information to Vitek.  In 1983, Vitek received permission from the FDA to market the device pending “specific performance standards.”  Hoyt, supra, 134 Or App at 277.

Hoyt sued Du Pont, contending that Teflon was unreasonably dangerous because it was defectively designed and because of Du Pont’s failure to warn the medical community.  The court of appeals found that the component part was not defective.  The court of appeals also relied on the “raw material supplier” doctrine in deciding not to apply strict liability.  When a multiuse raw material is not unreasonably dangerous in itself, but becomes unreasonably dangerous when incorporated into certain uses, the supplier cannot be sued based on strict liability.  Hoyt, supra, 134 Or App at 284-286.  See Crossfield v. Quality Control Equip. Co., 1 F3d 701 (8th Cir 1993); Childress v. Gresen Mfg. Co., 888 F2d 45 (6th Cir 1989).

Cases in Which Component Parts Are the Allegedly Defective Product

Plaintiffs did allege that defective replacement parts were supplied after the first sale of a helicopter in Evans v. Bell Helicopter Textron, 1998 WL 1297138 (D Or 1998), but the service bulletins proffered by plaintiffs were insufficient to establish that the defective component parts were installed in the engine after the first sale.  The helicopter was manufactured in 1979, and crashed seventeen years later.  Defendants’ motion for summary judgment was granted on the basis of ORS 30.905 because plaintiffs could not support their allegation that an affirmative misrepresentation occurred after the first sale of the helicopter by defendants.

In Allstate Indem. Co. v. Go Appliances LLC, 2006 WL 2045860 (D Or 2006), plaintiff alleged that a defective compressor installed on a used refrigerator caused a fire in its subrogor’s house.  The opinion does not state when the refrigerator was originally first sold and does not discuss product liability time limitations.  However, the court held that plaintiff could assert a products liability action against the defendant, who sold the used appliance and installed the allegedly defective new compressor.

The statute of ultimate repose in both strict product liability cases and negligence cases is beyond the scope of this article.  However, one of the controlling Oregon cases relevant to a replacement component part is Erickson Air-Crane Co. v. United Technologies Corp., 303 Or 281 (1987), mod. on recons. 303 Or 452.  Although Erickson discussed the application of the products liability statute of ultimate repose in the context of post-sale negligent misrepresentation, the case is relevant to a discussion regarding application of the statute of ultimate repose to a post- sale installation of a defective component part.

In Erickson, plaintiff purchased a helicopter in 1971.  Defendant allegedly made misrepresentations regarding the useful safe life of a compressor disc in 1977.  After the helicopter crashed in 1981 due to exhaustion of the compressor disc, plaintiff filed suit in 1983.  The plaintiff’s complaint alleged that defendant was negligent in providing erroneous information, failing to warn plaintiff as to the erroneous information, and failing to warn that the helicopter was dangerous after expiration of the true safe life of the compressor disc.  Erickson, 303 Or at 284-85.

The Oregon Court of Appeals found that plaintiff’s action against the manufacturer was a product liability action, and that because the action was commenced more than eight years after the first purchase of the helicopter, the statute of ultimate repose barred the action.  Id. at 285-86.  The Supreme Court reversed, holding that:  “ORS 30.905 applies only to acts, omissions or conditions existing or occurring before or at the ‘date on which the product was first purchased for use or consumption.’  Acts or omissions occurring after that date are governed by the statute of ultimate repose contained in ORS 12.115.”[1]  Id. at 286.  Because the defendant relayed the false information about the useful safe life of the compressor after the helicopter was first purchased, ORS 30.905 did not apply.  Id. at 289. (“The difference between the present case and the type of case that the legislature meant to cover under ORS 30.905(1) is that, in this negligence case, the reasonableness of certain of defendant’s actions after plaintiff’s purchase are in question while, in a product liability case governed by ORS 30.905, it is the condition of the article at the date of purchase that is in question.”) (emphasis in original).

The Erickson holding, when viewed in the context of installations of new components, supports the argument that such alterations cannot “restart” the statute of ultimate repose on the original product.  Erickson holds that ORS 30.905 only applies to “acts, omissions or conditions existing or occurring before or at the ‘date on which the product was first purchased for use or consumption,’” and a post-sale negligent misrepresentation leading to the installation of a new product necessarily occurs after the date the product was first purchased.  A manufacturer can argue that under Erickson, the statute of ultimate repose should run on the original product from the date it entered the stream of commerce, regardless of whether component parts were installed post sale.



[1] ORS 12.115 is the generic statute of ultimate repose for negligence actions, and provides that “any action for negligent injury to person or property of another” must be commenced within “10 years from the date of the act or omission complained of.”

Key Changes to the DSM-5 for the Product Liability, Personal Injury, and Aviation Defense Lawyer

DSM-5 book

The creation of the fifth edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) was a massive undertaking that involved hundreds of psychiatrists, psychologists, physicians, and other medical professionals working together over a 12-year period.  The DSM-5, which replaced the 2000 DSM-IV (TR), is the foundation for reliable diagnosis and treatment of psychological and mental disorders.  As with prior DSM publications, which now date back decades, it is not intended to be a substitute for sound, objective clinical judgment, training, and skill.

Reflecting and prompted by the many new longitudinal studies, research papers, and experimental treatment modalities that have appeared since 2000, this new DSM edition contains significant changes in the classification of some disorders, and the removal or addition of other disorders.  This discussion will provide a brief overview of some of the key changes to the DSM-V and will touch on issues of interest to legal professionals working in the areas of product liability, personal injury, and aviation defense.

In a trial setting, familiarity with the DSM-5 and the underlying literature will be critical to an effective cross-examination of plaintiff’s expert.  Often, with forensic psychologists, the defense can make significant inroads on the basis that plaintiff’s expert is not sufficiently familiar with the DSM or associated literature.  For example, a significant new body of literature related to “resiliency and benefit realization” after a traumatic experience is largely unknown to most plaintiffs’ forensic psychologists.

A substantial percentage of high exposure cases in those categories involve a diagnosis of PTSD by plaintiff’s expert and a Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) score based on the five-level multiaxial system, with Axis 5 providing the GAF score.  This brief post will focus on the changes to ­– or more accurately, the elimination of – the multiaxial system, as well as the changes to the criteria, symptoms, and diagnosis of PTSD.

A subsequent post will deal specifically with the criteria for PTSD and will include suggestions for cross-examination of plaintiff’s diagnosing mental health professional.

Changes to the Multiaxial System in DSM-5

Despite its widespread use, particularly among some insurance agencies and the government, the multiaxial system in DSM-IV was not required to make a mental disorder diagnosis.  DSM-5 has moved to a nonaxial diagnostic model (formerly AXES I, II, and III), with separate notations for important psychosocial and contextual factors (formerly Axis IV) and disability (formerly Axis V).  The approach of distinguishing diagnosis from psychosocial and contextual factors is also consistent with established WHO and ICD guidelines, which consider the individual’s functional status separately from his or her diagnosis or symptom status.

DSM-IV Axis V consisted of the Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) scale, representing the clinician’s judgment of the individual’s overall level of “functioning on a hypothetical continuum of mental health-illness.”  It was recommended that the GAF be dropped from DSM-5 for a number of reasons, including its conceptual lack of clarity (e.g., including symptoms, suicide risk, and disabilities in the descriptors) and questionable psychometrics in routine practice.  In order to provide a global measure of disability, the WHO Disability Assessment Schedule (WHODAS) is included in DSM-5 for further study.

Changes to PTSD in DSM-5

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”) is a Trauma- and Stressor-Related Disorder.  DSM-5 criteria for PTSD differ significantly from the DSM-IV.  The stressor criterion (Criterion A) is more explicit with regard to events that qualify as “traumatic” experiences.  Also, DSM-IV Criterion A2 (subjective reaction) has been eliminated.

Whereas there were three major symptom clusters in DSM-IV – re-experiencing, avoidance/numbing, and arousal – there are now four symptom clusters in DSM-5 because the avoidance/numbing cluster is divided into two distinct clusters: avoidance and persistent negative alterations in cognitions and mood.  The latter category, which retains most of the DSM-IV numbing symptoms, also includes new or re-conceptualized symptoms such as persistent negative emotional states.  The final cluster – alterations in arousal and reactivity – retains most of the DSM-IV arousal symptoms.  It also includes angry outbursts and reckless or self-destructive behavior.

PTSD is now developmentally sensitive in that diagnostic thresholds have been lowered for children and adolescents.  Furthermore, separate criteria have been added for children age 6 years or younger with this disorder.

The DSM-IV childhood diagnosis of reactive attachment disorder had two subtypes: emotionally withdrawn/inhibited and indiscriminately social/disinhibited.  In DSM-5, these subtypes are defined as distinct disorders: “reactive attachment disorder” and “disinhibited social engagement disorder.”

Olson Brooksby is a product liability, personal injury, and aviation defense firm.

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.


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.

Punitive Damages

Initially Pleading the Claim for Punitive Damages is Not Permitted in Original Complaint

Punitive damages are permitted in Oregon in product liability actions. Under Oregon law, at the time of filing a pleading with the court, the pleading may not contain a request for an award of punitive damages. ORS 31.725. At any time after the pleading is filed, a party may move the court to allow the party to amend the pleading to assert a claim for punitive damages. The party making the motion may submit affidavits and documents in support of the claim and the party opposing may do the same. Punitive damages in Oregon are an element of damages, and do not constitute a separate claim for relief. Under Oregon law, insurance coverage for punitive damages is permitted.

The Standard for Pleading Punitive Damages

Oregon has a relatively low bar for the inclusion of a claim for punitive damages. Plaintiffs need only present “some evidence” of the conduct that may give rise to punitive damages. ORS 31.725(3)(a). The showing necessary for the amendment is equivalent to a prima facie case that would merely need to withstand a motion for directed verdict at the time the amendment is sought. We emphasize that this showing of “some evidence” is a low bar, particularly in Multnomah County Circuit Court. In most cases, when plaintiffs intend add a claim for punitive damages, they will expressly state in the initial complaint an intent to move to amend to do so.

In most counties in Oregon, punitive damages are generally not allowed in simple negligence cases. However, in Multnomah County Circuit Court, we have seen simple negligence cases where judges have allowed punitive damages to go to the jury.

The Clear and Convincing Standard and Evidence of Conduct Required at Trial

In order to actually obtain an award of punitive damages from the jury, as opposed to merely obtaining permission from the judge to request punitive damages in an amended complaint, Oregon law requires imposition of a clear and convincing standard. Punitive damages are not available unless the plaintiff proves by clear and convincing evidence that the party against whom punitive damages are sought has acted with malice or has shown a reckless and outrageous indifference to a highly unreasonable risk of harm and has acted with a conscious indifference to the health, safety and welfare of others. ORS 31.730.

If a jury awards punitive damages, the court is required to review the award to determine whether the award is within the range of damages that a rational juror would be entitled to award based on the record as a whole, as well as statutory and common law factors. ORS 31.725 et. seq.

Statutory Allocation of Awards of Punitive Damages

With respect to the distribution of punitive damages, the percentages of the total award are all prescribed by statute. ORS 31.735. Under the statute, the State of Oregon takes 60% of every punitive damage award away from the plaintiff and puts it in the state crime victim’s fund. Then, plaintiff receives 30% and the attorney is paid an amount out of this 30%, but in no event more than 20% of the total punitive damages awarded. Finally, 10% is payable to the Oregon Attorney General for deposit in the State Court Facilities and Security Account. Plaintiff’s lawyers know this, so they often try to push harder to get the jury to award noneconomic damages. They may even decide to forego a punitive damages claim to avoid the risk of having a lower noneconomic damages award and a high punitive damages award that will go mostly to the state of Oregon. In cases with exposure to significant punitive damages, the Oregon Justice Department will often file a peremptory lien against the punitive damages to ensure proper distribution.

Damages Caps

There are no relevant damages caps on personal injury actions, as opposed to wrongful death actions. While Oregon case law has upheld a cap of $500,000 in noneconomic damages in wrongful death cases, the Oregon Supreme Court has declined to impose such a cap on noneconomic damages in personal injury cases on the basis that a personal injury cause of action was recognized at common law at the time of the adoption of the Oregon Constitution. In contrast, the Oregon Supreme Court upheld the statutory cap on noneconomic damages because the wrongful death action is a creature of statute, and a cause of action that did not exist at the time of the ratification of the Oregon Constitution.

One important note about the noneconomic damages cap of $500,000: While the cap has now been upheld by the Oregon Supreme Court in an en banc decision, this does not prevent the plaintiffs from pleading any amount they want to in the complaint. Under the statute, the jury is never told of the cap, and if the verdict for noneconomic damages exceeds the cap, it is the judge, not the jury, who reduces the verdict to $500,000 before entering the judgment. The judgment, rather than the verdict, is technically the document that has legal force. The entry of the judgment either starts the 30-day period in which to file a notice of appeal, or allows the plaintiff to execute on the judgment (collect either through voluntary payment or seizure of assets).

For example, let’s consider a hypothetical aviation crash. Suppose wife/mother is injured and her husband and son are killed. She could theoretically file a lawsuit demanding $50,000,000.00 in noneconomic damages for both her deceased son and husband. If the case went to trial under that scenario, and that amount was awarded, the judge, unbeknownst to the jury, and after the jury is excused from service, would reduce the verdicts in the two wrongful death cases to $500,000 each in noneconomic damages before entering the judgment.

An Introduction to Burn Injury Significance and Burn Centers

Burns Are Significant Injuries and Can Lead to Some of the Highest Jury Verdicts

Olson Brooksby appreciates the potential high-exposure value of burn injury cases.  Scott Brooksby has significant experience in serious, total body surface area (tbsa) burn injury and wrongful death cases.  Our lawyers understand the delicate nature of large burn injury cases and work to minimize exposure to our clients.

Defendants potentially subject to burn injuries should employ best safety practices and make every attempt to avoid such injuries.  Burns are one of the most serious injuries in personal injury cases.  They may be the result of chemical fire or exposure, explosions, paints, solvents, or conventional fire.  Sometimes burns are the result of contact with hot equipment or other product liability related events.  The defense of serious burn injuries, including those related to aviation, product liability and heavy manufacturing is a large part of the defense practice of Olson Brooksby.  A bad burn case in an aviation or heavy manufacturing accident, or as the result of a product liability defect can easily present high financial exposure to manufacturers and/or insurers.  Settlement exposure can climb into the millions or tens of millions, with verdicts at least as high.

Even when there appears to be a strong defense, defendants should not underestimate the overwhelming sympathy a jury will feel when it sees a burn victim, particularly with serious facial burns or burns to the extremities.  A good plaintiff’s lawyer will ask the jury to consider things like the profoundly disfiguring effects of a bad facial burn and the pain that everyday exposure to sunshine will cause its victim for life, or the lifelong gawking stares it will draw.

Similarly tragic are severe burns to the hands, which cannot be restored to even near full function or pre-burn aesthetics and result in pain every time the victim is touched.  When liability is clear, burn cases should be settled because, unlike other personal injury cases, deformities caused by burns can incense juries to the point where they cannot put their emotions aside.  The result can be verdicts in the millions or tens of millions, including punitive damages (particularly if children are involved or there is perceived recklessness).  Although the amount of burn verdicts used to depend on the region of the country where the case originated, such verdicts are now generally high in every jurisdiction.

If the burn injury case must be tried, it must be done with great sympathy for the victim  and careful attention to the medical aspects of the case, including future treatment, which may last decades and cost into the six or seven figures.

When trying a burn injury case, it is important to know where the injury occurred.  If a plaintiff has to be air lifted to a burn center, that can radically change the extent of the injury.  Similarly, it is important to know the details of the burn center where the plaintiff was treated because that can also change the extent of the injury and thus affect the jury verdict amount.

The Location of the Accident Can Change the Extent of the Injury and the Jury Verdict

In those industries where serious conventional burns are common, such as aviation disasters or steel or metal manufacturing, “serious” can arbitrarily be defined as full-thickness burns over 20% or more of the tbsa.  The location of a burn center and the length of time to transport the victim to the burn center can be outcome-determinative.  This is also particularly true where babies and children or those over sixty-five are the victims, or where there are serious burns to the face, head, extremities, or internal organs.

Manufacturers and insurers obviously do not choose where burn centers are located.  After an accident, first responders will obviously make needed decisions about transport.  Most heavy manufacturing, including that of aviation hot section components, is done near large metropolitan areas that typically have at least one burn center.  Perhaps some of the greatest danger lies in cases in remote areas where individuals are subject to burns from allegedly defective products.  For example, a person camping in a remote area of the Western United States who is badly burned by kerosene at a remote campsite may not be able to reach a burn center for hours.  There may be no cellular phone service and a helicopter ambulance may have to be dispatched from hundreds of miles away.

Depending on the severity and tbsa burned, the size and related capabilities of the burn center will have a direct impact on the plaintiff’s recovery, and consequently, the ultimate exposure to the manufacturer and/or insurer in any settlement or verdict.

All Burn Centers are Not the Same–They May Have Varying Treatment Philosophies, Training and Capabilities

The size of the burn center can also be outcome-determinative because smaller centers, such as the Oregon Burn Center at Emanuel Hospital, are generally not large enough to perform a full excision and grafting in high tbsa burn cases.  A full excision and grafting is where they do all of the procedures at once instead of one at a time.  Some burn physicians believe that, depending on the case, better outcomes are achieved through full excision and grafting in high tbsa burn cases.

There are approximately 45 regional burn centers in the United States.  Verification of burn centers is a joint program administered in the form of a rigorous review of the applicant centers by the American Burn Association (ABA) and the American College of Surgeons (ACS).  Many states do not have a regional burn center and most states have only one or two.  California has the most, with seven.  Most burn centers are run by a single group or an extremely limited number of groups of burn surgeons who practice at the facility.

Unlike hospitals, burn centers do not typically extend general privileges to physicians.  Most burn surgeons have been trained as general surgeons, and then have gone on to receive additional specialized training in burns.   Along the population corridor running down I-5 between Seattle and Davis, California there are three verified regional burn centers, one each in Seattle (Harborview), Portland (The Oregon Burn Center at Emanuel Hospital), and The UC Davis Regional Burn Center.

Training and available resources vary from center to center.  Burn centers also tend to have more pronounced treatment philosophies and cultures because they are staffed by relatively few surgeons who generally practice in the same group or just a few groups.  However, although burn center practice varies, it is imperative that those who are seriously burned reach a regional burn center as soon as possible because specialized treatment is inarguably outcome-determinative

The mechanics of injury, lots of fire, accelerant, and contact with temperatures in excess of 1,000 degrees are factors that are considered when determining whether burns are graftable from point of admission.  In any serious burn case, most intermediate facilities such as a conventional hospitals will seek to transfer a seriously burned patient, almost always by air, to a regional burn center as soon as stabilization occurs.


NTSB Hearing on Medical Helicopter Crash Considers Pilot Texting Ban

Close up of judge raising gavel in courtroom

The NTSB held a hearing on a fatal medical helicopter crash that took place in 2011.  After finding that smart phone texting was a contributing factor in the fatal crash, the NTSB recently considered a ban on pilot texting.  It is surprising that such a regulation is not already in place or under more serious consideration.  Because there was evidence that the pilot had not been texting during the 19 minutes before the crash, however, the NTSB did not take any formal action on such a ban.

This is part of a larger issue that demands attention — the egregiously high incidence of fatal and critical Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) crashes, and resulting personal injuries.

Olson Brooksby practices a wide variety of aviation law.  We have experience representing airlines, aviation insurers, aviation product manufacturers, and airplane owners.  Our attorneys have handled a broad variety of aviation law matters, including personal injury defense; product liability defense litigation; contract and lease drafting; contract negotiation and disputes; and general aviation commercial litigation.

Much of the firm’s practice is devoted to aviation law, and we are one of the few firms in Oregon with aviation trial experience.  Scott Brooksby leads our aviation practice, devoting a substantial amount of his time and practice to aviation-related matters.  Scott served as local counsel for one of the largest aviation manufacturers in the world in a nine-week trial in Oregon state court.  The trial involved product liability issues and concerned a helicopter crash that resulted in burns, permanent injuries, and multiple deaths.  Mr. Brooksby is on the aviation subcommittee of the American Bar Association’s Mass Torts section.  Mr. Brooksby has also been featured as a speaker and a moderator at the American Bar Association’s Aviation Litigation National Institute in New York, New York.