The Oregonian is reporting that an arrest has been made in one of the most egregious Oregon distracted driving cases in recent memory. According to the newspaper, a 23-year-old Gresham woman is now under arrest after “taking video on her cellphone when she drove into three teens in a crosswalk outside their high school.”

Further investigation showed that at the time of the Oregon pedestrian accident the driver did not have her hands on the steering wheel. Perhaps even more shocking is the revelation that the driver appears to have been taking a video of her own son at the time of the accident. “A 19-second-long clip… shows the 23-year-old with the device in her left hand and making gestures at her son in the back seat with her right hand just before she hits three girls outside Centennial High School on Jan. 15,” the paper reports.

According to the newspaper “the three injured girls, between 14 and 15-years-old, survived the crash” though all three were seriously injured. The accident took place in January and The Oregonian reports that the driver remained at the scene of the accident and cooperated with law enforcement. She has now been charged with “third-degree assault, reckless endangering and reckless driving.” Witnesses reported the driver was traveling at nearly 40 miles per hour when she struck the three pedestrians.

As an Oregon distracted driving lawyer this case is a powerful reminder that distracted driving is not just a teenage issue and that adults, too, can sometimes make shockingly poor decisions while behind the wheel. It is difficult to imagine what might have been going through the mind of a parent who would endanger their own child by turning around to make a video while also driving a fast-moving car. The criminal justice system is now going to deal with this particular driver, but the entire incident is a reminder of how important safety issues are whenever anyone – of any age – is driving a car. Moreover, the criminal case against the driver does not change the fact that the girls and their families retain the ability to seek damages in civil court to recover money for their medical bills and associated expenses as well as pain and suffering. The distinction is important because criminal cases deal with accountability to society while civil cases, by their nature, are about justice for victims.

 

The Oregonian: Gresham driver accused of making cellphone video before crashing into teens had hands off steering wheel

The Oregonian: Gresham driver crashed into teens while recording cellphone video, police say

Last week Portland suffered yet another tragic and preventable crosswalk death. The fact that this fatal Oregon traffic accident also involved a truck making a turn merely highlights the ongoing issue of pedestrian safety that I have written about so frequently.

 

According to The Oregonian a 61-year-old man from Northeast Portland “was using his three-wheeled wheelchair scooter in a marked crosswalk when a turning truck struck him.” It quotes a Portland police spokesman confirming that as the victim “crossed with the ‘walk’ signal, an eastbound truck turned south onto Naito Parkway and struck him.” The newspaper reports that the man died the following day at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center. The truck driver is reported to be cooperating with police.

 

There are a number of potential legal issues raised by this Oregon traffic accident. As is often the case in a death under these circumstances the possibility of a wrongful death action exists. It is worth considering whether there is a product liability issue involved in this incident. Considering the sheer number of automotive product recalls over the last year it is worth exploring whether the truck involved in this fatal Oregon traffic accident may have been – or ought to be – subject to a recall.

 

As an Oregon truck accident attorney who also practices in Washington I hope that a careful and thorough investigation of this fatal accident will be conducted. Oregon in general and the Portland area in particular have seen far too many crosswalk accidents over the last few years. I have written frequently about the need for better markings and a greater public investment in safety, but all of this ultimately depends on drivers – especially drivers of large trucks – being appropriately cautious and aware whenever they approach a crosswalk.

 

The Oregonian: Man dies after truck strikes him in NW Naito Parkway crosswalk

An article this week in USA Today outlines a growing movement around the country toward integrating bicycles into traffic patterns in a substantive way. The idea, the newspaper says, is to reduce bicycle accidents and create” safer roadways for non-motorists.”

“More and more cities across the nation, including 712 jurisdictions across 32 states, have been moving toward implementing “Complete Streets” policies, according to the National Complete Streets Coalition. These policies are meant to make streets more accessible for commuters of all types, as opposed to simply motorists,” the newspaper reports.

In practice, what this often means is the construction of protected bike lanes. USA Today notes that in Seattle alone almost 1000 on-street parking spaces have been eliminated in favor of bike lanes over the last four years. A bike lane separated from traffic by a median is obviously far, far safer than simply painting a bike lane line down the side of an existing road. As with most public policy decisions, however, this one involves trade-offs, and as USA Today writes the move toward better, safer bike lanes often leads “to a heated fight for curb space, as parking spaces are taken out in favor of bike lanes, bus lanes, pedestrian walkways, and even parklets, small parks built by extending existing sidewalks into neighboring parking spaces.”

It is not surprising that support for bike lanes drops among motorists when the construction of those lanes involves reducing or ending on-street parking in some areas. As a Portland bike accident attorney, however, I hope that drivers around the country can take a big-picture approach to this issue. We all agree that on-street parking is hugely convenient. That, however, needs to be balanced against the health and safety benefits that come with protected bike lanes (not to mention the fact that the better bike infrastructure is the more likely it is to take cars off the street – thereby improving the driving experience for people who remain in their cars).

The USA Today article documents objections to the extension of bike lanes in famously bike-friendly cities like Seattle, St. Paul and Princeton. This is proof, perhaps, that even in places known for an environmentally friendly and health-conscious approach to commuting it is possible for drivers to feel they have been pushed too far. That, however, would be the wrong way to look at the issue. To achieve significant healthy outcomes our cities will have to make many moves to accommodate vehicles other than cars. It is not too much to say it will often involve rethinking a century or more of urban planning. Implementing these changes will be a sign that we as a society are beginning to think long-term. That, in turn, will ultimately be good for everyone using our streets and sidewalks – motorists, pedestrians and cyclists alike.

 

USA Today: On-street parking losing ground to safety measures

Governor Kate Brown is considering whether or not to sign a bill improving protections for car drivers. The choice she faces is one between protecting consumers involved in Oregon car accidents and protecting the insurance industry.

The legislation, formally known as Senate Bill 411, is designed “to ensure that Oregon auto insurance consumers can actually use liability coverage they pay for every month,” according to a news release by the Oregon House Democratic Caucus. It closes a loophole in current law under which properly-insured drivers who suffer injuries at the hands of an underinsured motorist often find that “the at-fault driver’s insurance (a minimum of $25,000) is subtracted from the victim’s Underinsured Motorist Coverage – for a half-million Oregonians this means they’ll never be able to access the full coverage they’re paying for.”

According to the Oregon House majority’s news release, “SB 411 will allow injured motorists to add their uninsured motorist coverage on top of the at-fault driver’s liability coverage so injured consumers get the coverage they paid for. The bill also ensures that Personal Injury Protection policyholders are able to recover their total damages first, before the insurance company.”

This reform is long overdue and I hope Governor Brown will soon sign it into law. As an Oregon auto accident victims’ attorney I have often been shocked by the ease with which insurance companies can avoid paying the benefits that hard-working Oregonians believe they have paid for, sometimes over a period of many years. Policies ought to offer the coverage that a reasonable layperson believes he or she has paid for, and anything that makes it harder for companies to use technicalities to deny payment to deserving accident victims is to be welcomed.

 

Oregon House Democratic Caucus News Release on SB411

Oregon took a big step forward today in protecting the rights of consumers and holding bad corporate citizens to account when Governor Kate Brown signed legislation to strengthen consumer rights in class action suits. The new law will also help fund legal aid for our less fortunate neighbors. The bill was the first to be signed into law by the Governor, who took office only last month.

As outlined in a news release issued by Oregon Senate Democrats, “Oregon is one of only a handful of states in the country that allows corporate wrongdoers to keep unclaimed settlement funds. (This law ends) that practice by giving the judge in the case discretion to send up to 50 percent of the unclaimed funds to a non-profit service addressing the damage done in a specific case. The remainder of the money would go to Legal Aid Services of Oregon, providing critical access to civil legal services for those most in need.”

A statement issued by Gov. Brown’s office said, in part, “This law makes Oregon’s class-action laws fair for all Oregonians and ensures that corporations who are responsible compensate for the harm they have caused.” It also, she said “helps support our critically underfunded legal services.”

The newspaper notes that the new law is likely to face court challenges, but the important thing to keep in mind is that this legislation is hardly ground-breaking. Instead, it brings our state into line with practice in much of the rest of the country. One can understand how large corporate wrongdoers might not like that. Until now they have simply been able to pocket unclaimed class action settlement funds. Putting that money to work on behalf of both victims and, more broadly, those in our society least able to stand up to large companies, is only fair and just. I’m proud today to be both a Portland attorney and an Oregonian.

 

The Oregonian: Kate Brown signs class action legal-aid bill, her first as Oregon governor

Oregon Senate Majority Leader’s Office News Release

 

The deaths of three teens in three separate Oregon car crashes earlier this month is leading some observers to call for a rethinking of the state’s teen driving laws, according to The Oregonian.

“In 1999 the state passed a graduated driver’s license law for people under 18, requiring a period of supervised driving and a six-month ban on having other teenagers in the car,” the newspaper notes. Over the first eight years that the law was in effect the result was a dramatic fall in the rate of fatal car crashes involving Oregon teenagers. “The number of crashes involving teen drivers plummeted 29 percent, from 6001 to 4279,” according to the newspaper.

The recent accidents, however, highlight another trend: the fact that accident rates among teens are slowly rising again, leading some analysts to wonder whether the 1999 law has reached the limits of its effectiveness. The newspaper quotes a senior official from the Oregon Department of Transportation saying “with things leveling off, the question from a legislative point of view is what’s the next step? What else can we do?” As a result, according to The Oregonian, the ODOT is urging “lawmakers to put stricter limits on when drivers under 18 can have other teens riding along.”

The proposal is based on research indicating that teens in general, and teenage boys in particular, tend to drive more recklessly when other teens are in the car. Under current law newly-licensed drivers under the age of 18 “are prohibited from having passengers under 20, except for family members, for the first six months after receiving their license. During the second six months, they can ferry no more than three under-20 passengers in the vehicle.” One idea is to extend the time-frame of those restrictions.

As the article also notes, “nationally, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among teenagers.” As a Portland auto accident lawyer I see far too many cases involving teens and believe that any measure that might help cut the still-high teen car accident rate is worth considering. There will, of course, be a number of other issues to consider here: will the potential penalties be tough enough to serve as a real deterrent? Will the new laws be subject to primary enforcement (i.e. will police officers, in effect, be able to pull over a car full of teenagers for the express purpose of checking people’s ages). Like all significant legislative proposals making any change will require time and careful consideration. It is, however, a conversation worth having.

 

The Oregonian: Oregon teen driving laws scrutinized after West Linn, Oregon City students’ deaths

An accident last weekend in which a pick-up truck struck and killed three children and left one adult in critical condition is sparking local activism, according to a report by the Associated Press, reprinted in The Oregonian. The accident took place “in or near a crosswalk” at the same intersection where “a pedestrian was fatally struck two months ago and then carried on the roof of the fleeing car for 11 blocks.”

 

Citing the Eugene Register-Guard, the news agency describes the area of the fatal Oregon accident involving children as “a stretch of Main Street that’s seen numerous accidents… a 60-foot-wide, five lane commercial stretch, a local artery with lots of intersections, access points for businesses and pedestrians crossing. It also carries traffic from a state highway, Oregon 126, which goes through Springfield and Eugene as it connects Central Oregon and the Oregon Coast.” Despite the spate of accidents along this one short stretch of road, the AP quotes state and local officials defending the safety measures currently in place.

 

In the latest incident a pick-up truck killed the three children and critically injured a fourth person, a woman, as they were crossing the street near a local grocery store. The children were apparently headed home from the store at the time of the accident. The driver of the truck was reported by AP to be cooperating with the police. This is a significant contrast to the December incident at the same intersection when “police say the driver took a 67-year-old man’s body off her car roof and left him in the street. She’s accused of manslaughter,” AP reports.

 

Perhaps this latest incident will prompt state and local officials to take a closer look at Springfield’s Main Street in general and the area around its intersection with 54th Street in particular. As an Oregon lawyer focusing on both injuries to children and traffic accidents I can say with assurance that these news agency accounts describe too many fatalities in a single, small area for there not to be a broader reconsideration of pedestrian safety measures.

 

AP via The Oregonian: 3 children die when pick-up strikes them while crossing street

AP via The Oregonian: Neighbors decry intersection where 3 children died: ‘Too many people have been killed here.’

 

A recent article in the Homes & Gardens section of The Oregonian noted something that many readers might not know: home inspectors can and do offer advice that goes far beyond highlighting things that need fixing in a house that is about to be sold.

 

The paper quotes Nick Gromicko, author of The Safe Home and a certified Home Inspector, saying “I wrote the book after realizing consumers mistakenly believe they are hiring a home inspector only to find defects in systems and components… more often than not, the home inspector alerts the consumer to safety concerns.” The article goes on to offer important tips on crib safety, preventing furniture hazards that might crush a child (such as an entertainment center or bookcase tipping over), preventing window falls, safety gates and the child-proofing of stairs and railings. All tips, in other words, designed to reduce or eliminate injuries to children.

 

Some of these are essential tips I have written about before, such as installing window stops to prevent children from squeezing through an open window, or a reminder that safety gates are of little use if they do not meet recognized national standards. Other advice, however, falls into the category of ‘things that ought to be obvious but sometimes aren’t.’ For example Gromicko’s reminder that parents should “ensure that… any furniture a child could potentially climb on should be moved away from windows.”

 

Other safety standards are less well-known but equally important. “Dressers, chests of drawers, and armoires should be able to remain upright when any doors or all drawers are open two-thirds of the way, or when one drawer or door is opened and 50 pounds of weight are applied to the front, simulating the weight of a climbing child,” the newspaper notes, citing standards developed by the American Society for Testing and Materials.

 

As an Oregon and Washington lawyer whose cases often involve injuries to children I urge every parent and grandparent to click on the link below and compare your own home to the standards it lays out.

 

The Oregonian: Baby Safety: Check the crib, windows, furniture, railings

A proposal to build a protected bike lane to and through downtown Klamath Falls received a detailed write-up last week in the Herald & News newspaper. While bike lanes are often portrayed mainly as a safety measure – a way to cut down on potentially fatal bicycle accidents – the study cited by the paper makes a compelling argument that protected bike lanes also offer a variety of economic benefits.

 

The study was prepared by two Oregon Institute of Technology students in cooperation with a member of the Klamath Falls City Council and a team from the Sky Lakes Wellness Center.

 

Citing the experience of cities as diverse as New York, San Francisco and Portland the study’s authors say the installation of protected bike lanes has led to “an increase in property values, rents, fewer vacant buildings, as well as fewer automobile and bicycle accidents… additionally, a protected bike lane will help connect neighborhoods to downtown, encouraging more people to go downtown and increase the possibility for more business and new businesses.” It noted that cities that have built the lanes have seen property values along and near the lanes rise by 11 percent.

 

Any major change to local infrastructure, especially one that potentially impacts the entire community, takes time and the Klamath Falls proposal is still at an early stage. It will require further study in terms of its impact on such issues as traffic and parking. Neighborhood groups and local businesses will need to be consulted. “You have to have community buy-in for this to work,” the paper quotes the city councilman saying.

 

As a Portland bicycle accident attorney, however, I am happy both to see that our city is being held up as an example for other Oregon cities and towns and that the benefits of bicycling are being viewed broadly. Eliminating fatal bicycle accidents should always be the first priority, if evidence that protected bike lanes are also an economic boon helps them get built then so much the better.

 

 

The Herald & News: Protected Bike Lanes Offer Multiple Benefits

A recent Associated Press article republished by The Oregonian reported that Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health Division has fined a Salem company and the Oregon Department of Transportation for separate incidents that led to worker deaths. The deaths raise both possible Oregon wrongful death and employment liability law issues but, more immediately, leave open questions about the effectiveness of OSHA’s fines themselves.

 

According to the news agency, citing the East Oregonian newspaper, OSHA fined a Salem-based concrete company “$840 for not ensuring safe work conditions, which led to the death” of a 64-year old man employed by the company. “The company was installing rumble strips at the paving project on Interstate 84 west of Boardman when (he) was run over by a pickup towing equipment operated by another employee.”

 

The agency also fined the state transportation agency $3500 over the death of a highway maintenance crew member who was “paving Highway 320 when a dump truck backed up and ran over him.”

 

The fact that these are workplace safety related incidents raises questions about both wrongful death actions and also possible violations of Oregon’s employment liability laws. These require employers to provide a safe environment for their workers and proper, up-to-date training in the use of all relevant equipment. The bigger question, however, is whether such small fines can really serve as much of a deterrent against future potentially fatal accidents.

 

As a Portland workplace safety attorney one of my main goals is to help ensure that residents of Oregon and Washington have the on-the-job safety they deserve. Our industrial accident laws offer important protections. The relatively small size of the fines levied by OSHA in the wake of these two accidents is evidence of how essential the civil court system is for workers and their families seeking justice and a fair hearing in the wake of accidents like the ones mentioned here.

 

 

The Oregonian: Oregon regulators fine ODOT, Salem company over worker deaths