Appeals may help to define the law, and protect litigants

Family law matters, civil litigation disputes, as well as personal injury lawsuits may include errors in the trial court, or significant questions of law that may need answering. Not all trail lawyers have substantial experience in appellate matters. The trial court may include many legal arguments before trial. When a case goes up on appeal there is often a narrowly tailored question that needs to be answered to safeguard the interests of a litigant. Similarly, in complex litigation matters involving litigants from more than one state, lawsuits may take a complicated path to reach the trial court as the parties fight between state court and federal court.

In Miller v. Ford Motor Company, 363 Or 105 (2018), the case took a circuitous route to get on the court docket and required appeals in federal and state court to allow the plaintiff to move forward with her case. The pre-trial appeal helped to define the law regarding the statute of repose (sometimes referred to as the statute of limitations) for some product liability lawsuits in Oregon.

Lawsuit Removed To Federal Court

In 2012, a Ford Escape—owned by an Oregon resident– caught fire in the owner’s garage. The fire spread into the woman’s home, resulting in significant property damage.  During the blaze, the woman suffered personal injury as she tried to get out of the burning home. She filed a dangerous product lawsuit in Oregon State Court in 2014, seeking damages for the harm she had suffered. Ford had the lawsuit transferred from state court to federal court.

Dispute Over Statute Of Repose

The automobile manufacturer argued in federal court that the statute of repose barred the lawsuit from going forward. The company claimed that because the car was originally purchased by a consumer in 2001, she could not file the suit in 2014. The company referred to Oregon law and argued that to move forward with the lawsuit, the plaintiff needed to file the lawsuit within 10 years of the original purchase date.

Lawyers from Karmel Savage, P.C., argued that Oregon law has a ten-year statute of repose for products manufactured in the state, but if a product was manufactured in a different state, Oregon law defers to the statute of limitations in the state of manufacture. Missouri law does not have a limitation for bringing this type of claim. Therefore, the plaintiff’s lawyers argued that the lawsuit was not time-barred. Ford appealed the case to a federal appellate court. Because the issue is an interpretation of Oregon state law, the question was certified to the Oregon Supreme Court.

The Oregon Supreme Court analyzed the issue from a variety of angles to ensure that the law was applied properly and would be clear for future cases. The high court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, allowing the lawsuit to move forward.

Appellate rulings often clarify or define the law. As lawyers argue, appellate courts review the intricacies and fine details of the legal issue. Here, the strong trial lawyers were able to bring a compelling argument to the appellate level to define the law and protect the interests of their client.