Trial Venue: Conservative Controversy

SFE Attorney: Ryan McLellan

Plaintiff Attorney: Timothy Williams

City, Co., State: Originally filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court, Oregon

Claims Alleged: Personal Injury

Injuries Alleged: Extensive Burns and Scarring

Admitted Liability: No

Amount Claimed: $2,155,000

The Overview

Smith Freed Eberhard partner, Ryan McLellan, was hired to defend a client located in Malheur County, which is in southeastern corner of Oregon.  After the plaintiff was injured in Malheur County, he sued Ryan’s client in Multnomah County, arguing that the client and his business entities had significant contacts in Multnomah County to make venue proper there. Ryan was able to persuade the court that venue should be changed to Malheur County, where the injury occurred.

The Background

Plaintiff in this case brought suit against Ryan’s client claiming personal injury damages for extensive serious burns suffered when boiling oil sprayed all over his body while attempting to scrap a piece of heavy equipment. Plaintiff claimed Ryan’s client was negligent and also violated several Oregon safe employment act provisions as well as Oregon’s employers’ liability law. It was plaintiff’s contention that Ryan’s client should have ensured the heavy equipment was properly drained of all ignitable fluid, and that plaintiff had been assured that such drainage had taken place prior to his torching and cutting.

The main question in this case from the face of the complaint was exactly how the accident occurred. There was speculation and disagreement about how the oil could have been heated to a boiling temperature, how the oil line could have been cut from the location of the cut that plaintiff performed, and how such a significant amount of fluid could have ended up all over plaintiff with the presence of a large metal plate essentially blocking plaintiff from the spray. As expected, liability was also a contentious issue in this matter, as plaintiff intended to place the sole blame on Ryan’s client. One major concern was the fact that plaintiff had filed in Multnomah county, a very plaintiff-favoring area as far as jury awards.

Plaintiffs Theme

Plaintiff knew the nature of his injuries would work in his favor if he put his case in front of the right group of people. We believe this is exactly what plaintiff’s counsel attempted to do by filing the case in Multnomah county, instead of the county the accident occurred in. This way, plaintiff’s counsel would be able to use the liberal jury pool in favor of his client.

Our Strategy

Upon receiving notice of the filing, Ryan immediately filed a motion to change venue from Multnomah County to Malheur County, emphasizing his client’s lack of any real presence in Multnomah County.  Additionally, Ryan argued the nexus of the case was in Malheur county, as that is where the accident occurred, and where most of the relevant witnesses are located.

As alluded to above, the venue of a trial or hearing may be one of the most important factors in the outcome of a case. Multnomah County, where Portland is located, is very liberal. Eastern Oregon counties, such as Malheur County, are very conservative, and more beneficial to defendants in terms of awards given.  Because of this, the same case, tried in both counties, may produce very different results.

The Outcome

The judge granted Ryan’s motion to change venue, sending the case to Malheur County against the plaintiff’s objections.  After the hearing, the plaintiff’s counsel commented that he was told by one of his colleagues that he had to do anything he could to get his case transferred out of Malheur County. Venue changes can help add pressure on plaintiff’s counsel to resolve cases in many situations.    

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