“Jennifer’s Law” would allow wrongful death suits in Oregon against agencies that contract with state

KATU.com, May 19, 2014

The co-worker of a social worker stabbed to death in St. Helens two years ago is pushing to get Oregon law changed.

“It could have been stopped,” Pam Daniel said about her friend’s murder. “It didn’t have to happen.”

Mental health patient Brent Redd stabbed Jennifer Warren to death on May 20, 2012 while Warren was delivering Redd’s medication. Daniel, who left her job after the murder, said Warren’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against several state and local agencies. But, under Oregon law, Warren’s family can’t sue the employer, Columbia Community Mental Health, or the state department that contracted with them because of workers compensation.

A proposed bill [HB 4048A], introduced in the Oregon House of Representatives this year, would change that.

“Nobody goes into social work and says I’m going to get rich,” Daniel said. “We go there because it’s what we love to do, but at the same time, we need to be safe while we are helping.”

Daniel said the proposed bill would motivate the state and other employers to add safety protocols and oversight.

“It isn’t about the money,” she said. “If somebody knows it’s going to hit them in their wallet, they’re going to do something to prevent having to pay out that money.”

Columbia Community Mental Health has changed some things since Warren’s murder. Workers now carry a panic alarm, for example. Daniel said that’s not enough.

The proposed bill didn’t get far with lawmakers this year, but Daniel is trying to get the word out, so there’s more progress on it next year.

“Somebody needs to continue to let Jennifer have a voice.”