Deciding Whether to Litigate Your Wrongful Death Case in Federal Court or Oregon State Court

As we mentioned earlier this month, losing a loved one due to the negligence of someone with whom you entrusted them is an indescribably painful thing. As you and your family cope with the massive personal loss, there are still the legal ramifications and the financial loss your family has suffered as well. As you and your family work to heal, look to an experienced Oregon wrongful death lawyer to handle all of your litigation needs.

A skillful injury attorney is vitally important for many reasons. One of the biggest is advice and counsel about the many crucial decisions you’ll have to make throughout the process. For example… should you settle or continue litigating? Should you pursue your case in state court or federal court?

Once you’ve made a state-versus-federal court choice, an experienced attorney can fight to keep your wrongful death case in that court.

For example, there’s a recent matter from Southern California. While not originating in Oregon, the case was ultimately decided by the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, whose rulings directly impact federal cases in Oregon, California, and several other western states.

The plaintiffs were the relatives of a man in his late 50s who resided at a Glendale, California nursing home and who died in April 2020 allegedly as a result of COVID-19. The relatives sued for wrongful death in state court but the nursing home sought to litigate the dispute in federal court. The 9th Circuit court ultimately decided that federal preemption law did not prevent trying the case in state court, so the relatives were entitled to litigate in their preferred venue, state court.

State Court Might Be Preferable if You Want a Jury of Portlanders…

So why, you may ask, is this decision so important? That’s because there are several critical distinctions between how federal courts try civil cases versus how Oregon courts do it. For one thing, succeeding as a plaintiff may be more difficult in federal court. For you to win, as a plaintiff, you must persuade all the jurors in federal court. In Oregon court, a unanimous verdict is not required to obtain a civil judgment against a defendant.

Furthermore, the pool of jurors you’re likely to get might be more favorable in state court. For example, if you and your attorney have decided that the best place to present your case is the Circuit Court in Multnomah County, it is likely because you (and your counsel) believe that a jury of people from Portland and the Portland suburbs would best grasp your case and appreciate the totality of the harm you’ve suffered.

In federal court, there’s only one trial district for the entire state. The pool of jurors for your case, even if litigated in Portland, could be people from many different areas with many different worldviews, and that may make getting that required unanimous verdict even more challenging.

…But Federal Court Might Be Best if You’re Seeking a Large Sum of Damages

On the other hand, sometimes federal court makes more sense, especially in cases where the amount of harm was especially great. Wrongful death claims brought under Oregon law have statutory caps on the amount of damages you can recover. For example, the damages cap for an Oregon wrongful death case against a private entity is $500,000. Federal claims like those filed under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 have no cap.

Each decision made as part of your civil case is something that could either strengthen or weaken your case. Sometimes, a wrong choice can be catastrophic to the outcome. When your family needs to take on a wrongful death case, look to the knowledgeable Oregon wrongful death attorneys at Kaplan Law LLC to provide your family with advice based on years of hands-on experience litigating wrongful death cases, as well as the highest degree of diligence and professionalism. Call us today at (503) 226-3844 or contact us online to set up your free consultation.

50 SW Pine St 3rd Floor Portland, OR 97204 Telephone: (503) 226-3844 Fax: (503) 943-6670 Email:
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