The Oregonian this week reported on a guilty plea by a 24-year-old Gresham woman in an Oregon distracted driving case that encapsulates everything that is wrong with this growing problem.

According to the newspaper, the defendant admitted to “taking cellphone video of her child when she crashed into three teens outside their high school in January.” The three 14 and 15-year-old girls “sustained skull, pelvis and knee fractures” according to the paper, as well as “a broken nose, concussion and a lost tooth, and… a torn ACL and a concussion, court documents said.”

“Investigators found a 19-second clip on (the driver’s) phone that showed her hands off the wheel just before she plowed into the teens in the crosswalk, court documents said. She appeared to be holding the phone in her left hand and making gestures with her right hand at her son sitting in the back seat. Phone records show she had also been texting before the crash,” the Oregonian writes.

Beyond the children injured in this crash we also need to consider the danger to which this mother exposed her own son. As a result, there may be further legal consequences as a result of this extremely reckless distracted driving. If one of the girls she hit had died, or if an accident had resulted in the death of her own son, the driver might be subject to an Oregon wrongful death action. Though we can all be relieved that no one died in this car crash, that does not mean that this case is over. It will take months, perhaps even years, for the victims to recover from the serious injuries outlined by the newspaper.

As an Oregon distracted driving attorney I will be interested to see whether any of the victims pursue civil actions against the driver. The criminal charges that she has acknowledged begin the process of paying her debt to society, but they are only the first step toward providing justice for the victims of her reckless behavior.

 

The Oregonian: Driver admits crashing into teens in Gresham while taking cellphone video

SafeKids Oregon – an organization that regular readers will know I have long supported – has just published a very useful set of back-to-school tips and reminders. They are worth the attention of every Oregon parent.

The group’s website offers a useful guide focused on preventing injuries to children by teaching them how to walk safely to school. The publication, “Teaching Children to Walk Safely as They Grow and Develop” usefully offers varied advice for parents of kids in several different age groups. Key points include teaching younger children “where to cross streets and how to cross safely.” With older kids – especially kids who may have their own cellphones or other attention-absorbing electronic devices – the group notes that “attention-switching and concentration skills are essential.”

At every age the important thing is not only that skills are learned but that children have the opportunity to reinforce them. As the group notes, “children will demonstrate these skills some of the time, so continued practice is needed until they are consistent.”

The website also features a downloadable guide on back-to-school bicycle safety. As a Portland personal injury lawyer focused on preventing injuries to children I am happy to see SafeKids continuing their important public educational work. The material on their website is well-written and easy to understand. Let’s all hope that Oregon parents take the time to learn the lessons SafeKids is offering.

 

SafeKids Oregon Website

A summer marked by low gas prices has led to a jump in the number of miles Americans are driving. Unfortunately, it also appears to be leading to a significant increase in traffic deaths, according to a recent Yahoo! News article.

“The National Safety Council reported this week that traffic deaths and serious injuries in the US are on a pace to rise for the first time in nearly a decade. If the trend for the first six months of this year continues, the NSC says traffic fatalities in the nation will exceed 40,000 for the first time since 2007 and deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled will also increase,” the news service reports. The key lies in the last part of that sentence – indicating that the number of on-road deaths is not merely a function of the greater number of miles being driven. The article notes that when compared to 2007 the number of mile Americans drive has increased by 3.4% but in the first six months of 2015 alone the number of traffic fatalities has jumped by 14%.

According to the article a number of factors contribute to this – such as higher speed limits – but one might also think that the steadily improving safety gear in modern cars and trucks would, at least to some extent, mitigate that. The big thing that has changed for the worse, according to the study, is the steady rise in distracted driving in general and cellphone use in particular despite laws and educational campaigns here in Oregon and elsewhere designed to curb the practice. From a legal perspective this is especially significant since it, in turn, means that an increasingly large number of drivers are placing themselves at risk of wrongful death charges in the event of an accident.

The article notes that “an NSC study earlier this year indicated cellphone use is a factor in one quarter of all accidents.” As a Portland distracted driving and wrongful death attorney I am disappointed to read this analysis but not particularly surprised. Distracted driving in its many (and growing forms) is one of those problems that everyone says they take seriously but which too few people are willing to do anything about. Too many of us rationalize our own use of distracting technology while behind the wheel even as we criticize the same actions in others. Only when we all acknowledge this problem as the serious issue it is – and treat it as such – will the trends identified by the Safety Council’s study be reversed.

 

Yahoo! News: Traffic Deaths on the Rise – What’s Really to Blame?

NBC news is reporting this weekend that Britax, a major manufacturer of child car seats, “is recalling 37 models of its car seats due to a potential safety defect that could prevent harnesses from locking.”

In a web article the news organization reports that the recall order effects models built between August 1 of last year and the end of last month. The seats in question “may have a defective harness adjuster button that stays in the ‘release’ position when the harness is tightened, rendering the seat useless.” NBC adds that up to now no injuries to children have been reported as a result of the defect.

For its part, the company’s product recall page (see link below) offers detailed information on how to locate the manufacture date and serial number on Britax car seats and then use those to determine whether or not a particular seat is included in the recall order.

If there is a positive side to this story it is the speed with which this recall order was issued. Some of the car seats in question were manufactured less than three weeks ago. The company deserves some credit for moving quickly to address the issue, in contrast to so many other companies I often find myself writing about in this space which argue the point with regulators and investigators for months, or even years, in an effort to avoid issuing a recall notice.

As a Portland attorney specializing in injuries to children I urge every parent and caregiver reading this to take a close look at the links I’ve offered here and then to examine any and all child seats you may be using. The test now will be to see whether the media, Britax itself and retailers who may still be stocking these dangerous products move aggressively to make parents here in Oregon and around the country aware of the issue.

 

NBC News: Britax Recalls 37 Car Seat Models Over Potential Safety Defect

Britax Car Seat Recall Web Page

 

As the Bend Bulletin notes in a recent article, two recent crashes near the Central Oregon city are drawing attention to safety issues on US-97. The newspaper notes that just on Tuesday of last week two Oregon car crashes took place on the same stretch of the road highlighting an area that “has long been considered perilous for its intersections and lack of median barriers.”

The paper reports that an elderly man visiting from the Midwest was involved in a head-on crash Tuesday morning when he “tried to turn north from a private driveway on the southbound side” of the road. No one suffered life-threatening injuries in that particular Oregon car crash, but later in the day a six-year-old girl was critically hurt and seven other people suffered less serious injuries “when a Redmond woman traveling southbound crossed into the northbound lanes” in the same area of Highway 97.

Both of these accidents involved cars, but the heavy presence of semi-trucks along this stretch of road is a reminder that even more serious accidents can and do take place when larger vehicles are involved.

As is often the case in stories like this the good news is that ways to fix the problem are relatively easy to identify, but the bad news is that funding to implement these critical safety upgrades is difficult to come by. According to the Bulletin “major safety upgrades to the highway… will likely not be seen until after 2019, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation.” These include “adding concrete barriers and six locations for J-turns… (which) is expected to cost $9 million.” That money, the newspaper notes, will almost certainly have to come from the state, hence the relatively long time frame for implementation.

At the national level there has been a lot of talk recently about the need to improve our nation’s infrastructure. The focus is usually on crumbling bridges and embarrassingly dingy airports, but basic safety improvements along our highways also deserve attention. As an Oregon and Washington truck accident attorney I am all too aware of the problems caused by roadways designed for a different era when cars and trucks were smaller and slower-moving. The problem only gets worse when the roads themselves have not been properly maintained and upgraded over a period of years, or even decades. Our country can only move forward when we invest in its future. At the most fundamental level that means working to make driving a safer experience for everyone. When the solutions are simple and clear, it should not take four or five years to find the funds and do the work.

 

The Bulletin: Two Recent Crashes Highlight US Highway 97 Perils

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued a recall notice regarding millions of dressers sold by furniture giant IKEA, announcing last week that the company is offering free repair kits to customers.

According to the CPSC notice (see link below) “the chests and dressers can pose a tip-over hazard if not securely anchored to the wall.” The danger of injuries to children is especially acute from this defective product. The models effected are the “MALM 3- and 4-drawer chests and two styles of MALM 6-drawer chests… about 7 million MALM chests and 20 million other IKEA chests and dressers are part of the nationwide repair program.”

The recall follows reports of two children’s deaths after IKEA dressers tipped over on them. The agency notes that “consumers should immediately stop using all IKEA children’s chests and dressers taller than 23-1/2 inches and adult chests and dressers taller than 29-1/2 inches, unless they are securely anchored to the wall.” As part of the recall IKEA is offering free wall anchoring kits to consumers.

The reason why so many chests and dressers are involved in the recall is that the company has been selling these models since 2002.

The agency notes in its news release that “a child dies every two weeks and a child is injured every 24 minutes in the US from furniture or TVs tipping over, according to CPSC data.” As an Oregon lawyer specializing in both product safety and helping families that have suffered injuries to children I am pleased to see the recall going ahead, and the efforts being made to distribute millions of repair kits. One must wonder, however, why it has taken so long for this recall to get going, and how many families out there may not even know that an older chest or dresser, perhaps purchased second-hand long ago, is subject to these new safety measures. The fact that so much time has passed since these dangerous products first went on sale is troubling.

 

CPSC: IKEA offers free wall anchoring repair kit for chests and dressers due to tip-over hazard after two children died

US car makers may no longer dominate their industry they way they did a generation or two ago, but, as the New York Times recently detailed, their political clout in Washington remains formidable. As a result, the industry enjoys protections for unsafe and irresponsible behavior that other industries do not even when it results in auto accidents here in Oregon and elsewhere.

The newspaper reports that “legal loopholes that the auto industry helped create” are complicating efforts to hold both the auto makers and individuals working for them accountable for defective products they sold to millions of Americans over a period of years – products that led to many deaths and injuries.

“In one prominent example, lobbyists and trade groups blunted a law requiring car companies to notify regulators of certain safety defects within five working days, persuading Congress to water it down so that it carries only civil penalties, not criminal liability,” the paper notes. The article goes on to outline sensible proposals for accountability put forward over the last several decades by Republicans and Democrats alike, all of which have been eliminated or gutted in final legislation. It notes that “other industries, like pharmaceuticals and food” do not enjoy similar protections.

In one particularly shocking example, the paper details how the industry killed a proposal by a Republican senator “that would have made it criminal for auto manufacturers to introduce vehicles with safety defects into interstate commerce if they know of the defects at the time.” Today, the collective result of these measures is that “prosecutors cannot automatically charge G.M., or any of its employees, for a defect linked to deaths of at least 124 people.”

As an Oregon and Washington lawyer whose practice focuses on defective products, safety and accountability I hope everyone reading this will urge our legislators to end these unwarranted protections and allow victims of the auto industry’s negligent and dangerous practices to get the justice they deserve. The entire basis of our court system is that no one is above the law. It is shocking – and where Congress is concerned, disappointing – to find that in some ways the car companies have ensured that, for now at least, they are beyond its reach.

 

New York Times: Laws Hinder Prosecutors in Charging G.M. Employees in Ignition Defect

A report on the public radio program Marketplace this week focused on yet another way that our city is becoming a leader in promoting cycling. According to the report, a locally-based tech entrepreneur “has created an app called Ride, which asks cyclists to collect data as they cruise around Portland. The data will then help the city plan better cycling infrastructure, like signals, lanes, safer routes and where to avoid traffic.”

The report notes that around six percent of Portlanders use bikes to travel to and from work, a figure far above the national average of one percent. More dramatically, “that number leaps to 25 percent in the inner city.” Combine this with almost 350 miles of bike infrastructure in and around Portland and our city is uniquely well-equipped to help people improve both their health and the environment by replacing cars with bikes.

Unfortunately, Portland bicycle accidents involving traffic remain far more common than they should be. The hope is that by collecting a constant, and far more accurate, stream of data those accidents can be curbed – something that would benefit everyone.

The radio program reports that “the goal is to have between 5,000 and 10,000 cyclists using Ride by the end of the summer.” In addition, the team behind Ride “is installing wireless bike-counting sensors around the city” with the goal of improving on existing data collection methods (which often involve volunteers with pens and paper sitting on street corners, Marketplace reports).

As a Portland bike riders’ lawyer I applaud this initiative and hope it moves our already bike-friendly city even further forward. While we can all be proud of the efforts Portland has made in promoting cycling, it is also true that even here controversy can arise over the extension of bike facilities, especially when it impacts space available for cars. As one of Ride’s proponents notes, “we’re not going to get any more space for our roads as the city grows, so we have to make more efficient use of it.”

 

Marketplace: New app aims to improve cycling in Portland

A party line vote in the Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee this week marked a big win for industry lobbyists and loss for consumers. According to a report in the Washington Post the approved legislation, which now heads to the full Senate, “brims with industry-sought provisions that would block, delay or roll back safety rules.”

The newspaper’s account focuses in particular on auto and rail safety. According to the Post the bill “would block a new Department of Transportation rule requiring that trains hauling crude oil are equipped with electronically-controlled brakes that affect all cars at the same time.” It would also delay rules requiring both freight and passenger trains to have “positive train control” safety systems, despite the fact that most observers believe the recent fatal Amtrak crash near Philadelphia could have been avoided if a PTC system had been in place on the train in question.

On our roads, the bill would roll back measures intended to curb car accidents here in Oregon and around the nation by increasing the size of the fines the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration can assess against auto makers. Those fines are currently capped at $35 million – a relatively small sum for any big global carmaker – at a time of record-shattering auto recalls. The NHTSA had sought the authority to levy fines of up to $300 million, believing that the higher number would give car companies more incentive to put safety first. The committee reduced that to $70 million.

One of the few bright spots in the bill, according to the Post’s account, was that a provision pushed by committee Democrats that “would prevent car rental agencies from renting vehicles that are under a safety recall, but have not been repaired” survived – though only after Republicans on the committee tried, unsuccessfully, to water it down.

As an Oregon and Washington personal injury attorney I am appalled (though not particularly surprised) by all this. As the Post outlines, the changes to the bill approved by the committee amounted to an auto and rail industry wish list for this legislation. The decision by some committee members to put the interests of big business ahead of customer safety is profoundly disappointing..

 

Washington Post: GOP bill would undermine auto, rail safety regulations

A Harrisburg car crash over the weekend left a 19-year-old man dead and has led to the arrest of the vehicle’s 20-year-old driver, according to The Oregonian. “Police said alcohol and drugs likely were contributing factors. There was evidence to show that the driver… was allegedly (had) over twice the legal limit of alcohol (in his bloodstream) and had used cocaine and marijuana,” the paper reports.

Citing local police, the paper reports that the driver failed to make his way around a curve on a road in Linn County causing his minivan to roll several times. Of the three passengers in the van one was ejected and thrown some 50 feet. He was pronounced dead at the scene. The driver and the other two passengers, both of whom are 18 years old, were treated for “non-life threatening” injuries at an area hospital.

After his release from the hospital the driver “was booked into the Linn County Jail on charges of Manslaughter I, Assault II and DUII,” the newspaper reports.

Since the police have indicated that alcohol and drugs are likely to have played a role in this Oregon drunk driving accident it is important that we consider whether the state’s dram shop laws come into play. Because Oregon law extends some responsibility for a drunk driver’s actions to a bartender or host who served alcohol to the person responsible for the accident it is important to ask where the driver and passengers – all of whom were underage – got their drinks. It also means that the passengers may have a claim against the driver. If, however, they were drinking with him they may lose the right to file a claim against the bartender or host who served the alcohol.

As an Oregon and Washington drunk driving victims’ attorney the facts of this case, as spelled out in the newspaper, also raise Oregon wrongful death questions that merit further investigation. What they do most of all, however, is remind us of the importance of safety and responsibility on the road. One person is dead and three injured because a group of young people somehow got hold of alcohol, and perhaps drugs, they should never have had and then made the irresponsible decision to get into a van and drive. Education and efforts by police to crack down on this sort of behavior have to continue, especially now when people are out of school with more time on their hands during the long summer days. In the meantime, it is good to know that our courts are here to help the victims of this kind of irresponsible activity get the justice they and their loved ones deserve.

 

The Oregonian: Police arrest 20 year old man from Harrisburg after crash kills his passenger