Out-of-State Defective Products Manufacturers Subject to Their Home State Time Limits

A gavel on a desk, representing the recent ruling in the Oregon Supreme Court regarding out of state defective products manufacturers' liability

When an Oregonian suffers injury because of a defective product–a car, an industrial machine, a consumer product–the product manufacturer and seller is responsible for paying damages.  That’s called “product liability.”  The Statute of Ultimate Repose (SOUR) for product liability is the Oregon law that says a plaintiff injured by a defective product cannot sue more than 10 years after the product was first sold at retail.   The SOUR often leaves seriously injured Oregonians without a remedy.  But the law includes an important exception for products manufactured in other states–if the state where the product was made has a longer SOUR than Oregon’s 10 years, Oregon courts will apply that more favorable law.  That’s called the “look-away” provision, and it makes sense because a product manufacturer should expect its home state law to apply rather than 49 other laws in states where the product might happen to hurt someone.  Some 30 states have no SOUR at all.

Aline Miller’s 2001 Ford Escape caught fire in her garage in 2012 because of a faulty sensor, and her house burned to the ground.  She sued Ford, but, because the small SUV was more than 10 years old, Ford argued the case should be dismissed under the Oregon SOUR.  The car was made in Missouri, which has no SOUR.  Ford argued that Oregon couldn’t apply the Missouri law because the absence of a SOUR doesn’t qualify under the Oregon “look-away” provision.  Ms. Miller argued the court should apply the law of the state of manufacture because, among other reasons, that’s what the manufacturer should expect.  And it would be pretty silly for the Oregon Legislature to pass a law that didn’t apply to most of the states.  The case went through federal court to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which asked the Oregon Supreme Court for its opinion on this question of Oregon law.

On June 7, 2018, the Oregon Supreme Court agreed with plaintiff and held that the period of repose in Missouri applies.  That means Ms. Miller’s case against Ford can go forward.  That’s good news for Oregonians injured by older defective products made in other states that have no statute of ultimate repose.

TCNF partner Jim Coon wrote the amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief supporting Ms. Miller in the supreme court on behalf of the Oregon Trial Lawyers’ Association.