Two different major personal injury cases with Oregon connections have been in the news lately. In both cases, the dollar amounts being sought by the victims were substantial, but apart from that, the cases were as different as night and day.
Case Against Western Machine Works for Death of Worker
In the first case, the widow of a man killed in an accident at work is seeking $2 million in damages from her husband’s former employer. Larry Sapp died at work almost exactly three years ago, on June 17, 2009, and his widow says Sapp’s death was entirely preventable.
The suit filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court alleges:
- Larry Sapp’s death could have been prevented if his employer, Western Machine Works of 12005 North Bugard Way in north Portland, had taken the simple step of putting a protective shield on the machinery Sapp worked with.
- The employer knew the machinery was dangerous for five years before Sapp was killed. In 2004, another employee was bruised and battered after being pulled into the exact same machinery that ultimately claimed Sapp’s life.
- In 2007, Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health Division recommended to Western Machine Works that safety guards should be installed that would prevent clothing being snagged on various pieces of machinery. The Portland personal injury attorney representing Sapp’s widow, Nancy Sapp, says the company failed to instigate these protective actions until after Sapp was killed.
- The lawsuit claims Larry Sapp’s coveralls got caught on bolts attached to a powerful lathe used to cut metal and that the lathe Sapp was working with had no emergency stop switch.
- Even after a co-worker cut the power to the lathe, it continued to spin for almost a full minute, according to an OSHA report being used to support Sapp’s claim.
Sapp’s injuries on that day in June, 2009, were so severe (he suffered multiple deep, gaping cuts over large parts of his body) that he died before paramedics even arrived at Western Machine Works.
Nancy Sapp’s action is seeking damages against both Western Machine Works and Poreba North America LLC, the manufacturer of the lathe. In spite of the fact that they are facing a claim for almost $2 million, Poreba declined comment, and a supervisor at Western Machine Works said he wasn’t even aware of the suit.
Damages being claimed include:
- About $9,000 for memorial and burial expenses
- $955,000 for Sapp’s lost wages, retirement benefits and pension
- $1 million for Sapp’s pain and suffering in the few moments before his death, as well as his wife’s loss of companionship
Since the accident, Western Machine Works, which was founded in 1985 and makes and repairs equipment used by U.S. and Canadian paper mills, has installed safety guards on all its lathes.
Woman Awarded $900,000 for Herpes Case
The second notorious Oregon personal injury case making the news lately involves a retired dentist who gave an Oregon woman a surprise case of herpes. Even though the dentist knew he had the disease, he neglected to tell the woman, who has not been publicly named, until after they’d had sex.
The case was heard before a jury in Portland; the plaintiff was a 49-year-old Oregon woman, and the defendant was a 69-year-old retired dentist. The couple met on eHarmony, a well known online dating website. According to the woman’s testimony:
- She and the defendant decided to have sex after their fourth date.
- She asked him to wear a condom and offered him one from her bed stand.
- The defendant became suddenly aggressive and did not use the condom.
- A short time later, the dentist told the lady he had herpes, but said he was not suffering from lesions at the time.
- The plaintiff developed herpes 11 days later, suffering painful outbreaks, as well as anxiety and depression.
The woman’s personal injury lawyer also said the case was easy to prove because the plaintiff had received a clean bill of health very shortly before the date in question, meaning that her body had not started developing antibodies to herpes. The attorney also said the dentist was guilty on two counts; first his aggressive behavior amounted to battery, and second, he was negligent in not telling the woman he had herpes before having sex with her.
In his defense, the retired dentist said he did not know that his herpes was contagious, as he only thought the disease was contagious once lesions developed. His lawyer also argued:
- The woman may have had sex with other men other than the dentist, and it was possible that one or more of these men may have given her herpes—a claim the woman vigorously denied.
- The woman was partly responsible for the sexual encounter, as she had agreed to have sex with the man.
- The defendant genuinely didn’t know his herpes were contagious when he had sex with the plaintiff.
It took the jury less than two hours to decide that the plaintiff was only 25 percent responsible for what had happened to her. They made an award of $900,000 against the defendant, saying he had been negligent in not informing the woman he had herpes, and that he would have to compensate her for her pain and suffering.
Not all personal injury cases occur under such dramatic circumstances, and awards in most cases are nowhere near the figures mentioned here. However, it’s true that in Oregon, people suffer injuries in a wide variety of ways—on the road, at work, on a bike, on a date or just walking down the sidewalk—and in many cases the injuries sustained are due to the negligence or the deliberate act of someone else.