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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

California appeals court vacates overruling demurrer in crane accident suit involving Oregon State

By John Sammon | Nov 28, 2017

SAN DIEGO (Legal Newsline) – The California 4th Appellate District Court on Nov. 8 granted a writ of mandate petition vacating an earlier San Diego County Superior Court judgment in a lawsuit brought by a California man who was severely injured in a crane tip-over accident against Oregon State University.

The court said Nov. 8 that the Superior Court erred when it overruled Oregon State’s demurrer (objection) and directed the trial court to vacate its Jan.18 order overruling the objection to George Sutherland’s first amended complaint. The appeals court requested a new order sustaining Oregon State’s objection with leave to amend.  

The trial court is being asked to reconsider the case by applying claims notice provisions of Oregon’s Tort Claims Act.

According to the opinion, George Sutherland, an employee of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, a department of the University of California at San Diego, was loading a crate owned by Oregon State University onto a vessel owned by UC San Diego when the crane he was using tipped over, crushing him.

The opinion states that bills for each of two stack containers stated they weighed 14,500 pounds. Sutherland successfully loaded the first container but the accident occurred on the second. Sutherland sued Oregon State over allegations of negligence.

Oregon State objected, saying the complaint was without merit because it did not comply with provisions dealing with loss and harm in the Oregon Tort Claims Act.

Sutherland maintained Oregon State had lost its protections under the Tort Claims Act when the college decided to engage in activities in California in which a California resident was injured. The plaintiff also contended that applying the Tort Claims Act provisions of another state would violate California public policy protecting the legal rights of its citizens and compensating them for injuries caused by others.

Attorneys for Oregon State disagreed arguing that not applying the Oregon Tort Act would be hostile to that state and also discriminatory.

On Jan. 18, the San Diego Superior Court overruled the demurrer (Oregon State). While acknowledging that California and Oregon have similar claims provisions, the Oregon version the court said was different because it has a damages cap while California’s does not. The court also found that California’s public policy of protecting people injured within its borders would not be benefited by applying Oregon tort claims and would deprive Sutherland of a remedy against Oregon State.

Oregon State filed a petition for a writ of mandate challenging the ruling.

Sutherland had amended his complaint, but later said he could provide further allegations against the college, including evidence the stack container that caused the accident was overweight. He also alleged he was not allowed proper access to interviews investigating the accident conducted by the California Department of Occupational Safety and Health.

Representatives for Oregon State denied the allegations.

The 4th Appellate District Court said that while California is not required to apply another state’s laws if the other state’s laws reflect an opposing policy, applying Oregon statutes (tort claims) in this case would not violate California’s public policy because the two states had similar claims notice provisions.

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California Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals