McDuffy v Interstate Distributor Co (2005) H&FLR 2015-6

 

John McDuffy v Interstate Distributor Co (2005) H&FLR 2015-6

Multnomah County Circuit Court (Oregon)

5 October 2005

Coram: Not known

Appearing for the Plaintiff: Michael Ross (of Slater Ross)
Appearing for the Defendant: Alan Lee (of Bullard Law)

Catchwords: Oregon – truck driver – obesity – discrimination – compensation – quantum.

Facts: The plaintiff had worked as a commercial driver since 1987 and had been employed by the defendant since April 2003. He was classed as morbidly obese, being 6 feet tall and weighing 550 pounds (250 kilograms).

In May 2004 he was assigned to a truck which was smaller than usual and in which the steering mechanism could not be adjusted.  He was unable to fit in the cab and reported the problem, after which he was suspended from duty without pay.  In late May he was assigned a larger truck, but then again suspended pending medical clearance for work.  On examination by a doctor it was found that he was able to drive a truck and had only minor other limitations on his capacity to work. Despite this his suspension was not lifted.

The plaintiff brought proceedings against his employer for discrimination.  He tendered in evidence video footage of him performing his work duties.

Held: The jury upheld the plaintiff’s claim and awarded damages of $109,000.00.

Judgment

The outcome was a jury finding and no written reasons are available.  The report prepared based on an account in the Seattle Times of 7 November 2005 and the Oregonian of 6 November 2005.

Bagley v Mt Bachelor Inc (2014) H&FLR 2015-4

Myles A. Bagley and Ors v Mt Bachelor Inc and ors (2014) H&FLR 2015-4

Supreme Court of Oregon

18 December 2014

Coram: Court en banc

Appearing for the Plaintiff: Arthur C Johnson (of Johnson Johnson & Schaller) and Kathryn H. Clarke.
Appearing for the Defendant: Arthur C. Balyeat (of Balyeat & Eager)
Appearing for the Oregon Association of Defence Counsel (amicus curiae): Michael J. Estok (of Lindsay Hart)
Appearing for the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association (amicus curiae): Kristian Roggendorf (of Roggendorf Law)

Catchwords: Oregon – skiing – injuries – liability – release – waiver – public policy – unconscionability.

Facts: The plaintiff was an experienced snowboarder. On 29 September 2005 he purchased a season pass from the defendant for use at its ski area. Purchase of the pass involved signing an extensive prospective release of liability, of which he was reminded while on site by wording on his pass and by signs. On 19 February 2006 the plaintiff sustained very serious injuries while going over a snowboard jump, allegedly because it had been negligently designed, constructed and maintained by the defendant.

The plaintiff brought proceedings against the defendant in Deschutes County Circuit Court, which were summarily dismissed based on the release signed by the plaintiff: Bagley v Mt Bachelor Inc (2010) The Bulletin, 6 September 2013. The plaintiff’s appeal to the Court of Appeals was dismissed: Bagley v Mt Bachelor Inc, 258 Or. App. 390, 310 P.3d 692 (2013). The plaintiff further appealed to the Supreme Court.

Held: allowing the appeal, that –

1. (a) The Courts will not enforce contracts which are illegal. An agreement will be illegal if it is (inter alia) contrary to public policy as expressed in constitutional provisions, statute or case law, or if it is unconscionable.

Uhlmann v Kin Daw, 97 Or. 681, 193 P. 435 (1920); Delaney v Taco Time International Inc, 297 Or. 10, 681 P.2d 114 (1984), followed.

(b) Quaere whether the concepts of public policy and unconscionability are separable.

2. A contract may be unconscionable on procedural or substantive grounds.

(a) Procedural unconscionability considers whether there was oppression or surprise when the contract was formed.  Oppression will exist when there is such an inequality of bargaining power between the parties that there is no real opportunity to negotiate the terms of the contract and there is no meaningful choice.  Suprise occurs when the terms are hidden or obscured (for example, by being in fine print or ambiguously worded) from the perspective of the party claiming unconscionability

Vasquez-Lopez v Beneficial Oregon Inc, 210 Or. App. 553, 152 P.3d 940 (2007); Acorn v Household International Inc, 211 F. Supp. 2d 1160 (ND Cal., 2002), followed

(b) Substantive unconscionability considers whether the terms of the contract contravene public interest or public policy.  It will be necessary for the court to consider whether enforcing the release will cause a harsh or inequitable result, whether the party claiming the benefit of the release serves an important public function, and whether the release absolved the releasee from more than ordinary negligence.

Commerce & Industry Insurance v Orth, 254 Or. 226, 458 P.2d 926 (1969); Estey v MacKenzie Engineering Inc, 324 Or. 372, 927 P.2d 86 (1996); Real Good Food v First National Bank, 276 Or. 1057, 557 P.2d 654 (1976), followed

(c) The factors listed as relevant to unconscionability are not exclusive, and no single factor is critical.  The determination that a release breaches public policy or is unconscionable reflects the totality of the circumstances as well as any other factor (including societal expectations).

Judgment

The Court’s judgement is available here.