By Kevin Clonts
In Miller v. Ford Motor Co., the Oregon Supreme Court held that when a product liability claim is initiated in Oregon for a product manufactured in a jurisdiction that has no statute of repose, the Oregon claim will not be subject to any statute of repose. Instead, the only limitation period for such a claim is 2 years after the plaintiff discovers the injury or damage.
In Miller, plaintiff filed suit after her Ford Escape allegedly caused her house to catch fire. The Ford Escape had been manufactured in Missouri in June 2001 and was first sold to a consumer in September 2001. The house fire occurred in May 2012.
Plaintiff filed suit in Oregon state court, but plaintiff removed the case to federal district court. After removal, plaintiff moved for summary judgment, arguing that the case was barred by the statute of repose. The district court denied the motion, concluding that Oregon’s 10-year statute of repose did not apply because ORS 30.905(2)(b) required the court to apply the repose period of the state of manufacture. Because Missouri had no statute of repose for product liability actions, the district court concluded that no such limitation applied to bar the claims. Ford appealed to the Ninth Circuit, and the Ninth Circuit certified the question to the Oregon Supreme Court.
ORS 30.905, provides:
(1) Subject to the limitation imposed by subsection (2) of this section, a product liability civil action for personal injury or property damage must be commenced not later than two years after the plaintiff discovers, or reasonably should have discovered, the personal injury or property damage and the causal relationship between the injury or damage and the product, or the causal relationship between the injury or damage and the conduct of the defendant.
(2) A product liability civil action for personal injury or property damage must be commenced before the later of:
(a) Ten years after the date on which the product was first purchased for use or consumption; or
(b) The expiration of any statute of repose for an equivalent civil action in the state in which the product was manufactured, or, if the product was manufactured in a foreign country, the expiration of any statute of repose for an equivalent civil action in the state into which the product was imported.
Defendant Ford argued that the text of the statute supported the conclusion that Oregon’s 10-year statute of repose should apply if the jurisdiction of manufacture has no statute of repose. Ford focused on the statute’s use of the term “expiration,” and argued that if the foreign jurisdiction has no statute of repose, there is nothing to expire.
However, the court chose to focus “instead on the legislature’s use of the word ‘commenced,’” which it found led to a different result:
ORS 30.905(2) states that an action “must be commenced before * * * [t]en years after the date on which the product was first purchased for use or consumption,” or before “[t]he expiration of any statute of repose for an equivalent civil action” in the state of manufacture, whichever is “later.” (Emphasis added.) It is possible to read that text to mean that, when the manufacturing state does not have “any” statute of repose, there simply is no deadline by which a plaintiff must “commence” an action, other than the two-year statute of limitations provided in ORS 30.905(1).
Further, the statute gives “a plaintiff the benefit of the ‘later’ of two timeframes: Ten years from the date of purchase or the time period that the plaintiff would have in which to bring an equivalent civil action in the state of manufacture.”
The court also found that the legislative history of ORS 30.905(2) supported the conclusion that if the state of manufacture did not have a statute of repose, the claim would not be subject to a statute of repose in Oregon.
In sum, a product liability claim filed in Oregon for a product manufactured in a jurisdiction that has no statute of repose will not be subject to any statute of repose.