Oregon Supreme Court Allows Injured Workers to file Civil Actions Against their Employers

Injured workers who found themselves without a remedy when their work injury claims were denied were given another option when the Oregon Supreme Court issued its opinion in Smothers v. Gresham Transfer, Inc.(1) in May 2001.

Terry Smothers filed an “occupational disease” claim for a lung disorder developed after exposure to fumes and mist containing sulfuric acid and small amounts of hydrochloric and hydrofluoric acids (used to clean trucks) which drifted into the pit where he worked as a lube technician. His workers’ compensation claim was denied since he could not prove that this exposure was the “major contributing cause” of his lung condition.

1995 changes to the Oregon Workers’ Compensation law made workers’ compensation the “exclusive remedy” for work-related injuries, even if a claim was found not compensable. This left Smothers without any remedy at law for hospitalization and extensive lost time from work due to repeated episodes of pneumonia and bronchitis that eventually developed into a lung condition rendering him unable to return to work.

In a civil lawsuit, Smothers alleged his employer was negligent in subjecting him to acid mist and fumes that caused permanent injury to his lungs; skin blisters, pain and swelling in the joints of his hands, elbows and knees; degeneration of his toenails, fingernails and teeth; and other physical ailments. The circuit court and the Oregon Court of Appeals told him that due to the “exclusive remedy” provision, he had no legal remedy against his employer outside of Workers Compensation, despite the fact that his condition was clearly related to his exposure to chemicals at work.

Smothers argued that the “remedy clause” of the Oregon Constitution guaranteed him a remedy at law for his injuries. The Oregon Supreme Court agreed. It reversed the lower courts and authorized Smothers to pursue his injury action against his employer in the Circuit court. The Court’s lengthy and exhaustively researched opinion drew from sources ranging from Harvard Law Review articles, 19th century legal treatises and the original sources of the Oregon Constitution all the way back to Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England and the Magna Carta.

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If you were injured on the job and feel as if you may have a right to workers’ compensation, it is critical that you contact an attorney IMMEDIATELY. Strict “statutes of limitations” apply to most of these situations, so if you don’t act, you may LOSE your right to pursue legal action.  Don’t delay. Contact our law firm today to arrange a free consultation and case evaluation. Call our main office toll free 800-525-2099.

Oregon Workers’ Compensations Attorneys at the Law Offices of Black, Chapman, Petersen and Stevens represent clients throughout Oregon and Northern California, including but not limited to the residents of Jackson County, Josephine County, Klamath County, Coos County, Curry County, Douglas County, Lane County, Deschutes County, Lake County, Del Norte County, Siskiyou County, Modoc County, Humbolt County, Trinity County, Shasta County and Lassen County.