April 16, 2024
by Elyse Waters

OREGON: “Exclusive Remedy” win for employers/administrators/insurers at Oregon Court of Appeals

On April 10, 2024, the Oregon Court of Appeals issued a ruling reiterating the importance of the exclusive remedy clause under ORS 656.018. The case, Pierce v. Best Western Int., was litigated by Rebecca Watkins of SBH Legal.

ORS 656.018 is the “exclusive remedy” clause for workers’ compensation claims in the civil arena. Under the “exclusive remedy” statute, a worker who is injured in the course and scope of their employment is entitled to receive (from their employer) only the remedies provided for in the Workers’ Compensation Act. The rights provided for under the Act are in lieu of any remedies the injured worker and beneficiaries might have otherwise have for an injury.

In the Pierce case, the injured worker suffered a fatal on the job injury. The personal representative of the worker’s estate filed an action against the employer in civil court. The action raised the issues of negligence, employer liability law, and premises liability. It was also asserted that the worker’s children “suffered profound injuries” from the loss of their mother and the exclusive remedy clause under ORS 656.018 was unconstitutional because it deprived the worker’s children of a remedy for the loss of their mother.

The employer, represented by SBH Legal, filed a motion to dismiss the civil case, citing the exclusive remedy clause, which barred the civil claims. Additionally, the employer noted that ORS chapter 656 didn’t name adult, non-dependent children as beneficiaries.

The trial court granted the employer’s motion to dismiss. The personal representative appealed the dismissal to the Court of Appeals.

On appeal, the court discussed two Oregon Supreme Court cases that previously addressed the arguments made by the injured worker’s personal representative in this case. The case “on point” (Juarez v. Windsor Rock Products, Inc., 341 Or 160 (2006)) dealt directly with the constitutional argument in the context of adult non-dependent children. The Oregon Supreme Court determined in the Juarez case that the constitutional remedy clause only applies when there is an injury to person, property, or reputation.

Turning to the Pierce case, the Court of Appeals determined it was bound by the prior case law of the Oregon Supreme Court. They explained the “injuries” asserted by the estate were “loss of society and companionship” – neither of which were covered by the remedy clause in the Oregon Constitution. Because the remedy clause wasn’t triggered, the Court of Appeals determined that the motion to dismiss was proper as ORS 656.018 barred the civil action brought by the personal representative. The dismissal of the civil case was not a violation of the Oregon Constitution.

The Pierce case is beneficial for the overall workers’ compensation system. It reaffirms the principle that the workers’ compensation system is the appropriate venue to remedy losses/injuries resulting from work related accidents.

If you have questions about the exclusive remedy or this specific holding, please contact me at 503-412-3111 or .

Posted by Elyse Waters.