SUCCESS STORY

Turning Over a New Leaf

SFE Attorneys: Ryan McLellan & Sean Conner

Plaintiff Attorney: Travis Prestwich

State & County: Oregon, Marion County

Claims Alleged: Personal Injury

Injuries Alleged: Wrongful Death

Amount Claimed: $715,000

The Overview

 Smith Freed Eberhard partner Ryan McLellan and (now) partner Sean Conner achieved an impressive motion for summary judgment in defense of a construction company faced with a wrongful death suit.

The Background

Ryan and Sean’s client was contracted to replace a ferry crossing in a remote area along the Willamette River. The project required a large pit (about 30 feet long by 10 feet deep) to be dug. Large signs and roadblocks were put in place to close the road and work area, and to alert anyone who might venture out toward the construction. In 2011, a few months into construction, an elderly woman with partial dementia presumably became lost from her usual shopping route around town and ended up at the worksite well after dark. The woman attempted to drive around the barricade, but her car became stuck. She then exited the car, crossed the barricade, and fell into the pit, later dying of hypothermia. The plaintiff alleged that the lack of fencing around the pit constituted negligence on the part of the defendant.

 The matter came to Ryan and Sean in the middle of litigation as a transfer from another attorney. At that time, the defense was relying on the argument that it was not foreseeable that someone would approach the remote worksite late at night, ignore the signage and roadblocks, and become injured. However, the preceding defense counsel still estimated a low possibility of settlement and an anticipated verdict of around $300,000 if taken to trial.

Our Strategy

During initial review of the file, Ryan and Sean determined that a specific legally defined duty under premises liability would trump the general duty under negligence in this case. Under premises liability, the duty owed is predicated on the status of the person on the land. Generally that requires a possessor of land to maintain the land in a reasonably safe condition. However, because the decedent in this case was trespassing, the only duty required of the defendant was to avoid injuring the trespasser through willful and wanton conduct.

The Outcome

Ryan and Sean moved for summary judgement under their new trespassing theory. Previous counsel had disregarded this possibility based on their general duty negligence analysis. In response to Ryan and Sean’s motion, plaintiff’s counsel agreed to dismiss the case if costs were waived. Such creative re-framing of the case ultimately led the plaintiff to raise the white flag, turning hundreds of thousands of dollars in anticipated liability into a prompt dismissal.

Read More
Success Story Negligence Personal Lines Tenant Landlord Court Strikes Opposing Party’s Counterclaims Due to Failure to Comply With Discovery Orders Wednesday October 13, 2021 By: Narmina Sharifova
Success Story Automotive Defense General Litigation ORS 20.080 Attorney Fee Personal Lines Taking a Case to Trial During COVID-19 Wednesday September 22, 2021 By: Gordon Klug
Success Story Property Loss Tenant Landlord 4th and 10… An Improbable Comeback Win at the Washington Court of Appeals Tuesday December 1, 2020 By: Firm Authorship
Success Story General Litigation ORS 20.080 Attorney Fee Personal Lines When to Fight Back with a Counterclaim Thursday November 19, 2020 By: Jeff Eberhard
Success Story Automotive Defense General Litigation Motorist Minor Impact Personal Lines The Strategy in Jury Selection: Using Voir Dire to the Defendant’s Advantage Tuesday August 11, 2020 By: Jessica Kamish
Success Story Commercial Liability Defense Securing Victory Under Securities Laws Friday December 20, 2019 By: Firm Authorship
Success Story Automotive Defense Personal Lines Research Pays Off (to the Tune of $2.2 Million) Friday December 20, 2019 By: Firm Authorship
Success Story General Litigation Drawing the (Property) Line Friday December 20, 2019 By: Firm Authorship
Success Story General Litigation Multi-National Retailer’s Discrimination Mitigated Friday December 20, 2019 By: Firm Authorship
Success Story Commercial Liability Defense Allegations of Misappropriation of Trade Secrets and Employment Law Violations? Denied. Friday December 20, 2019 By: Firm Authorship
Success Story Automotive Defense Personal Lines PIP Rejected: A Desperate Attempt to Recover Expenses Friday December 20, 2019 By: Firm Authorship
Success Story Commercial Liability Defense General Contractors Jobsite Injury An $18,000,000 Dismissal Friday December 20, 2019 By: Firm Authorship
Success Story Automotive Defense General Litigation Personal Lines The Early Bird Gets the Case Dismissed Friday December 20, 2019 By: Josh Hayward
Safe Harbor Letter Success Story Automotive Defense Personal Lines Preparation Always Pays off: Especially at Trial Friday December 20, 2019 By: Firm Authorship
Success Story Automotive Defense General Litigation Personal Lines The Case of the Mysterious Torn Medial Meniscus Friday December 20, 2019 By: Firm Authorship
Success Story Automotive Defense Personal Lines Hit and Run Dismissed Friday December 20, 2019 By: Firm Authorship
Let’s talk

Tell us about your legal challenge.
Then we’ll tell you how we can help.