Oregon Rules Say Legal Beneficiaries Not Parties to Wrongful Death Cases – Personal Injury

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Oregon’s wrongful death law, ORS 30.020, specifically limits standing to sue for wrongful death to “personal representative of the deceased…”. The personal representative is then authorized to bring an action “for the benefit of the surviving spouse of the deceased, the surviving children, the surviving relatives and other persons, if any, who, under the law of intestate succession of the State of domicile of the deceased, would have the right to inherit the personal property of the deceased…”

Background
In Dahlton v. Kyser the question was whether these were production requests seeking documents from the relatives of the deceased regarding the injuries they claimed, such as the loss of society and company. The Oregon Supreme Court held that, for purposes of ORCP 44 C, “legal beneficiaries are not ‘parties’ to a wrongful death action because the only person with authority to control the litigation is the representative personal of the deceased”. Beneficiaries could not be required to provide information according to ORCP 44 C.

Decision

Dahlton seemed to rule narrowly. For example, he did not specify whether a defendant could subpoena that same information. Dahlton could also create a question at trial about the scope of evidence that legal beneficiaries are entitled to bear damages “for pecuniary loss and for loss to the firm, company, and services of the deceased,” according to ORS 30.020 ( 2) (d). If recipients are not required to comply with ORCP 44 C, it seems unfair to allow recipients to subsequently present evidence that could have been obtained under this rule.

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