State constitution overrides workers comp exclusive remedy doctrine

"Every man shall have remedy by due course of law . . .." While at work, Dan Alcutt fell off a footstool. Alcutt's workers' compensation claim was denied on the ground that -- due to preexisting degenerative disc disease -- his work activities were not the major contributing cause of his disability or need for treatment.

Based on the same event, Alcutt sued the employer claiming negligence. The trial court dismissed his claim on the ground that the Workers' Compensation Law's exclusive remedy provision barred the suit. The Oregon Court of Appeals reversed. Alcutt v. Adams Family Food Services (Oregon Ct App 10/09/2013).

Alcutt gets his day in court for his work-related injury notwithstanding the Workers' Compensation Law's exclusive remedy provision. You see, Oregon has this interesting provision in its constitution:

"Every man shall have remedy by due course of law for injury done him in his person, property, or reputation."

The Oregon Supreme Court set up the following analytical test:

When the drafters wrote the Oregon Constitution in 1857, did the common law of Oregon recognize a cause of action for the alleged injury? If the answer to that question is yes, and if the legislature has abolished the common-law cause of action for injury to rights that are protected by the remedy clause, then the second question is whether it has provided a constitutionally adequate substitute remedy for the common-law cause of action for that injury."

After a lengthy discussion of the Oregon statute, the court concluded that Alcutt has a constitutional right to proceed in court on his negligence claim.