Project owners and contractors often face challenges when defective building materials are used during construction. Bad building products can throw an entire construction project off kilter and, of course, can lead to litigation. Questions for the lawyer can abound. Is the contractor to blame for using the bad product? What if the project owner or architect selected the product? What about the manufacturer? Isn’t it responsible? While these questions are important, it’s often the details that can confuse even the most seasoned lawyer. Smaller issues, such as the applicable statute of limitation or repose, can become major headaches, particularly when the product is manufactured outside of the state where the lawsuit has been filed. Thankfully, the Oregon Supreme Court recently ruled on that exact issue, providing welcome guidance for lawyers, construction professionals, and project owners.
In June, the Oregon Supreme Court issued its opinion in Miller v. Ford Motor Co., 363 Or 105 (2018). In Miller, the Court held that when a product liability action is properly filed in Oregon, and the case involves a product manufactured in a state that has no statute of repose for an equivalent action, then the Oregon claim is also not subject to a statute of repose.
Oregon’s product liability statute (ORS 30.900) requires that a plaintiff commence his or her lawsuit no more than ten years from the date on which the product was first purchased, or before the expiration of the applicable statute of repose in the state where the product was manufactured, whichever is later. ORS 30.905(2).
In Miller, the plaintiff bought a Ford vehicle, which caught fire in her garage. The plaintiff sued Ford in Oregon’s U.S. District Court. Ford moved to dismiss the claim on the basis that the car, manufactured in Missouri, was purchased more than ten years before the lawsuit was filed. The district court denied the motion, finding that because Missouri had no statute of repose for product liability claims, there was no applicable statute of repose on Miller’s claim. Ford appealed and the Ninth Circuit certified the question to the Oregon Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court held that when a product is manufactured outside of Oregon, and that manufacturing state has no statute of repose for product liability actions, the associated Oregon claim likewise has no statute of repose. The Court examined the legislative history of Oregon’s product liability statute, and concluded that the legislature, in tying the Oregon statute of repose to the repose period in the manufacturing state, intended Oregonians to be able to file lawsuits in Oregon related to products manufactured elsewhere. The Court noted that it was clear that the legislature wanted to avoid a situation where an Oregonian would have to travel to another state to file and prosecute a lawsuit, just because that jurisdiction has a longer repose period. There was no legislative intent, according the Court, that all plaintiffs—including those where the product was manufactured out-of-state— would be bound by Oregon’s ten-year repose period.
While the facts underlying the Miller decision were focused on auto parts, the holding applies to all actions brought under Oregon’s product liability statute, ORS 30.900. Builders and owners should also benefit from the ruling because the majority of states do not have a statute of repose for product liability actions. Building product manufacturers should take note that they will not be “off the hook” in Oregon after ten years, even if the product was manufactured outside of Oregon and the state where it was manufactured does not have a statute of repose for product liability claims.
The full Oregon Supreme Court decision can be found here.