Floyd Prozanski (D)

SALEM, Ore. (Legal Newsline)-Oregonians injured by defective products would have 10 years from the date of purchase to sue manufacturers instead of the current eight years, under legislation the state Senate approved Tuesday.

Senate Bill 284 would change a 1977 law -- the statute of ultimate repose -- that requires product liability lawsuits against manufacturers to be filed within eight years after the date a product is purchased.

The legislation cleared the Senate on a 17-13 vote.

The Oregon Trial Lawyers Association had unsuccessfully asked the Democrat-led Senate for an extension to 25 years.

The legislation was prompted by the case of four Lake Oswego, Ore., teachers whose eyes were damaged in 2004 by ultraviolet radiation leaking from a broken protective cover on a metal halide light bulb in a school gymnasium.

The bill, which now moves to the House for consideration, includes a "look away" provision to the state of manufacture, giving the injured party the length of time allowed in the state where the product was originated, a statement said.

"A defective product can cause serious, life-altering injuries," Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. "This is about fairness to consumers. It's an incremental step."

Earlier this year, the Oregon Senate voted to allow plaintiffs to sue state and local governments for more money than currently allowed under the state's public liability cap.

The legislation calls for increasing the liability cap $100,000 a year to a maximum of $1.5 million by 2015 for individual claims against state government. The plan would increase the cap to $3 million for all claims from a single incident. The bill also would eliminate the distinction between economic and noneconomic damages.

Lower caps would be allowed for cities, counties, school boards and special districts, under the changes to the Oregon Tort Reform Act backed by Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski and the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association.

The bill followed a landmark 2007 Oregon Supreme Court ruling that found the state's current $200,000 cap to be inadequate.

In its decision, the high court affirmed a 2006 Oregon Court of Appeals ruling that allowed the family of a brain-damaged child to sue Oregon Health and Sciences University for more than $17 million in connection with injuries Jordaan Michael Clarke suffered at the hospital as a three-month-old baby.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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