The Oregon Supreme Court has ruled that the "exclusive remedy" provision of the state’s workers compensation laws is unconstitutional, opening the door for some injured workers to sue their employers.

The case was brought by Terry Smothers, a former lube technician for Gresham Transfer, who claimed that chemical mist and fumes he breathed on the job triggered respiratory problems. The Workers Compensation board denied his claim, concluding that the fumes may have aggravated his asthma but were not the major contributing cause of his respiratory condition. Under Oregon law, an employee can only collect workers’ comp benefits if more than half of the injury or illness is job-related.
Two lower courts dismissed Smothers’ subsequent lawsuit against Gresham. Both ruled that workers’ comp was his only remedy. However, the Supreme Court decided that the exclusive remedy provisions of workers’ comp rules violates Oregon’s constitution. Essentially, the court said that it creates a category of workers who have no way to seek redress for work-related illnesses or injuries if they are denied benefits because they can’t prove that work was the major contributing factor.