Provided by Willamette Law Online: http://www.willamette.edu/law/wlo/index.htm
Supreme Court of Oregon
Decision issued May 10, 2001
Smothers v. Gresham Transfer, Inc. (SC
Area of Law: WORKERS' COMPENSATION
HOLDING: Determining whether the exclusive remedy provisions of ORS 656.018 (1995) violate the remedy clause of Article I, section 10, of the Oregon Constitution, which provides that "every [person] shall have remedy by due course of law for injury done him in his person, property, or reputation," involves a case-by-case analysis.
Summary: In a unanimous opinion of the Court by Justice Leeson, in which Justice De Muniz did not participate, the decision of the Court of Appeals is reversed. The judgment of the circuit court is reversed, and the case is remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings. Plaintiff filed a workers' compensation claim for his lung condition, after having been exposed to mist and fumes from sulfuric, hydrochloric, and hydrofluoric acids that drifted into the pit from a truck-washing area located outside the trucking company where he worked as a mechanic. In reversing the lower courts' rulings, the Court first examined the meaning of the remedy clause in Article I, section 10, of the Oregon Constitution. The Court examined the wording of the clause, the historical circumstances that led to its creation, and the case law surrounding it. The Court concluded that, as one of the provisions of the Oregon Bill of Rights, the remedy clause protects rights respecting person, property, or reputation that, when the Oregon Constitution was created in 1857, the common law regarded as "absolute." The remedy clause mandates the availability of a remedy for injuries to those rights. The legislature may abolish a common-law cause of action so long as it provides a substitute remedial process in the event of injury to an absolute right that the remedy clause protects.
At a minimum, to be a remedy by due course of law, a statutory remedy must be available for the same wrongs or harms for which a common-law cause of action existed when the Oregon Constitution was created in 1857. In circumstances such as plaintiff's, in which a workers' compensation claim for an alleged injury to an "absolute" right is denied for failure to meet the major contributing cause standard of proof, the exclusive remedy provisions of ORS 656.018 (1995) are unconstitutional under the remedy clause, because they leave the worker with no remedial process.
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