Final decision in Brown v. SAIF now up to the Oregon Supreme Court

Workers’ compensation practitioners had their own version of “Super Bowl Sunday” this past week when the Supreme Court of Oregon heard oral arguments May 11 in SAIF’s appeal of Brown v. SAIF.[1]

Brown, as many know, dramatically altered the landscape when processing combined condition claims and represented a significant departure from well-established legal precedent. The decision shifted the focus from the accepted conditions under a particular claim, to the actual injury incident, regardless of the scope of acceptance, when determining whether a work injury has ceased to be the major contributing cause of a worker’s disability or need for treatment. The repercussions of this decision have touched virtually every aspect of claim processing and caused significant confusion within the industry.

Suffice it to say, SAIF’s appeal has been highly anticipated and widely supported throughout the defense bar. Jerry Keene, former lead appellate partner at Reinisch Wilson Weier and current director of the Oregon Workers’ Compensation Institute, LLC, helped draft the legislation that gave rise to combined condition processing. He was extensively quoted in the Brown decision regarding legislative testimony he gave in 1990. He submitted an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court in support of SAIF’s appeal in which he rebutted the Court of Appeals’ interpretation of his own legislative testimony.

Mr. Keene has been able to provide a unique perspective. During the oral arguments, he felt the questioning by Justices Landau and Linder, both formerly of the Court of Appeals, tracked the concerns outlined in the defense briefs and evidenced their understanding of the practical significance of the Court of Appeals’ abrupt rejection of decades of complicated case law. Mr. Keene’s impression was that none of the Justices voiced support for the Court of Appeals’ interpretation, that an “otherwise compensable injury” meant the event itself (i.e., the work injury), rather than its results (i.e., the resulting medical condition).

Oral arguments and the tone of the questioning from the Supreme Court Justices leave us hopeful the Court will modify, if not reverse Brown, and the significant uncertainty the decision created.

Reinisch Wilson Weier will continue to monitor the activity at the Supreme Court and provide an update once a decision is reached. In the meantime, if you have any questions about the Brown case and the impact it has on your claim processing decisions please do not hesitate to contact the authors or any of the Oregon practice attorneys.

Click here to listen to a recording of the May 11, 2015, Brown oral arguments before the Oregon Supreme Court.

[1] 262 Or App 640 (2014).