The scandal surrounding defective auto airbags manufactured by the Japanese company Takata got worse this week. According to a story just published by the New York Times “Honda Motor Co. said Friday that it would recall 5.7 million cars worldwide in the latest round of recalls involving Takata Corp. air bag inflators that can explode and hurl shrapnel into the vehicle.”

The paper reports that about 2.2 million of those vehicles are here in the United States. That’s on top of the 24 million units from Honda and other companies that were already on the recall list in the United States alone – and tens of millions more worldwide. It is a scandal that has only grown over the last year. According to the Times 11 deaths and at least 139 injuries have been inked to the shrapnel-laden airbags..

The latest recall notices came just days after senators Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut “called on the Obama administration in a letter to force the recall of every Takata airbag that uses a propellant that contains a compound called ammonium nitrate, which can degrade over time and become unstable,” according to a separate Times article published earlier in the week.

Indeed, it is difficult to see at this point why every Takata airbag on the market is not recalled if only for a safety inspection. Such a move would make a great deal of sense, since the one constant throughout this scandal has been that every time Takata and regulators think they have a complete list of the effected cars and trucks the list, sooner or later, grows longer. “We do not need to wait for yet another preventable death to happen,” the senators wrote, according to the Times.

As an Oregon and Washington auto accident victims attorney I believe there is a strong argument for getting ahead of this problem rather than accepting Takata’s incremental approach to the recalls. Each time the list grows it adds to the uncertainty of millions of car and truck owners who wonder whether they will be next and, in the meantime, whether or not their vehicle is safe to drive. It is time to end that uncertainty.

Resource: Click here to see if your vehicle is subject to a Takata-related recall

 

New York Times: Senators Demand a Much Broader Recall of Defective Takata Airbags After a Recent Death

New York Times: Honda’s Latest Airbag Recall to Total 5.7 Million Cars

A lawsuit alleging sexual abuse at a state youth correctional facility is calling attention to the responsibility Oregon and other states have to protect young people placed in their care. According to a recent article in The Oregonian a man in his early 40s has filed a suit in Marion County court alleging that “as a teenager in 1991 he was repeatedly coaxed into a laundry room and a bathroom and then sexually abused by two female staff members at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility in Woodburn.”

This case caught my eye because it is a powerful reminder that injuries to, and sexual abuse of, children can and should be addressed by our justice system even if a significant amount of time has passed. According to the paper the victim, identified in the suit only as “John Doe” had not “reported the MacLaren employees to police or others, the suit says, because he didn’t see the behavior for what it was.” No person who has suffered in this way should be denied justice solely because they were too afraid to come forward at the time the offense was committed. Therefore it is heartening to see this case proceeding despite the passage of nearly 25 years.

Even more importantly, “the suit states that sexual abuse at the youth prison in the 1990s wasn’t just isolated to Doe. The suit claims that the two women abused at least three other boys – and that one of the women ended up marrying a youth offender after the two had a sexual relationship at MacLaren. The lawsuit faults the Oregon Youth Authority for allegedly ‘fostering’ an atmosphere where sexual abuse of youths was known and ignored or condoned.”

That last sentence gets to the heart of the issue. Whether a child has been placed in foster care or in juvenile detention or even if they are simply at school, once the state takes responsibility for a young person’s well-being it has a duty to see that its employees act in a proper manner and that the facility or school where the child is placed is safe and secure.

As a Portland attorney with a practice focusing on injuries to children I will be following this case as it unfolds in the weeks and months to come. Beyond the issue of the physical and psychological injuries allegedly suffered by the boy at the center of this case I hope our courts and the media will explore the broader culture of youth correctional facilities and ask whether the situation today echoes in any way the alleged conditions of the 1990s.

 

The Oregonian: Lawsuit: Youth correctional workers molested teen, supplied meth 25 years ago

A harrowing story in the magazine Pacific Standard highlights how loosely regulated midwife-supervised births often are, and the tragic consequences that can result. As the article’s sub-head notes: “in 30 states, Certified Professional Midwives are licensed to practice medicine with virtually no medical training.” This, in turn, can lead to serious injuries to children and even, as in this case, to deaths.

The article focuses on the experience of a Nevada couple whose baby died a few minutes after being born. As it lays out in detail, the warning signs about this particular pregnancy were clear for any trained professional to see. The problem was that by hiring a midwife in a state with particularly lax regulation the parents were left getting advice from someone fundamentally unqualified. “Had (the baby) been born in a hospital under the care of a nurse-midwife or physician, he almost certainly would have lived,” the magazine concludes.

The article goes on to note that it was only after matters had gone too far that the parents discovered that the ‘supervising physician’ listed by the midwife had never met her, and that the woman in question had moved to Nevada to evade a license suspension in California.

This story is particularly relevant here in Oregon because, as the article notes, “in states like Oregon and Washington, out-of-hospital births comprise up to six percent of births statewide,” compared with a national figure of only two percent. Yet even as they increase in popularity questions over safety persist. The magazine reports that an academic study published in the New England Journal of Medicine drawing on 80,000 Oregon births in 2012-13 “showed that planned home births had a higher likelihood of neonatal seizures and carried twice the risk of neonatal death than did in-hospital births.”

As an Oregon and Washington attorney with a particular focus on cases involving injuries to children and wrongful death (the case outlined in the article is currently the subject of a wrongful death suit) I hope that readers will take the time to look over the linked article in detail. As it makes clear, there are a number of different types of midwife – some have extensive medical training while others have virtually none. It is critical for any couple considering a home birth to educate themselves on the distinctions among practitioners and the pros and cons of different birthing scenarios.

 

Pacific Standard: When Home Birth Goes Wrong

A recent blog posting at the Bike Portland website highlights a decision by the city’s Development Commission to spend $88 million to purchase the main downtown post office building (the post notes that the main postal sorting facility is expected to relocate from downtown “to a site near the airport”). That might not seem like it would have an immediate effect on the cycling community, but its impact could be far-reaching.

As the advocacy group outlines, when the post office’s local headquarters moves out of the city center “hundreds of daily truck trips will vanish from the Pearl District area… and the street grid between the north Pearl and the Willamette River will connect for the first time in more than 50 years.” That development alone could have a huge impact on the number of bike accidents in central Portland.

Looking more broadly, the group believes the project will mean better biking connections to the Broadway Bridge. The group also states that “in addition, the bike lanes on Broadway and Lovejoy are due to be upgraded to protected bike lanes.” The proposal is part of a larger plan to create a “Green Loop” consisting of “low-stress bikeways circling the central city” and a large public plaza in front of Union Station. In short, it is a plan that ought to make our famously bike-friendly city an even better place to walk or cycle.

Of course none of this is set in stone and the planning and funding processes can always take unexpected turns, but viewed more widely the fact that something like this is even being seriously discussed and planned puts Portland in the vanguard of American cities. As an Oregon and Washington lawyer whose practice focuses on bike accidents and assisting the cycling community I will be eagerly following both the broader Green Loop plan and the more immediate plans to move the post office out of the city center.

 

Bike Portland: City will buy downtown post office enabling new bikeway links

As the scandal surrounding, Give Us This Day, a foster care provider, and its oversight by the state grows it is becoming clear that a number of state officials did not have their priorities in order when it came to preventing Oregon injuries to children.

As outlined in a recent Oregonian article, newly released documents show that state officials were warned nearly seven years ago about possible abuses at the center. The potential dangers there grew from an operation where, according to a 2009 memo from the head Oregon’s child welfare programs, the site was unlicensed, and there were “numerous concerns… the most serious of which is that every single staff person has a criminal record.”

Yet, as the newspaper goes on to note, the event that eventually prompted the state to stop placing children with this questionable facility involved money rather than safety: allegations that Give Us This Day “had misspent nearly $2 million in state funding.” The newspaper reports that the latest batch of records released to the public “add to disturbing questions about state officials’ willingness and ability to crack down on troubled (foster care) providers.”

According to testimony given to a state senate committee by a former employee Give Us This Day “failed to provide food and clean bedding, rewrote reports, tolerated mold and rodents, and let workers use improper force.” Since that time the Governor has removed the head of the state’s Department of Human Services and “announced a review of Oregon’s foster care system.”

As a Portland attorney focused on injuries to children I believe it is important that this case not fall out of the spotlight. It is always easy for the government to announce a policy review in the wake of revelations like these. All of us who care about the way children are treated and about whether the law does enough to protect them, need to ensure that our political leaders do everything they can to understand what went wrong with the state’s foster care system and to fix it. The real mistake would be to assume that the problems stop at Give Us This Day. To offer children in Oregon’s foster care system the safety that is their right, the reviews and investigations need to look at the system as a whole. Something that failed this badly once may well fail again if instead of focusing on the oversight system as a whole we focus all our resources on understanding and punishing a single failure.

 

The Oregonian: Foster care scandal deepens: ‘Every single staff person has a criminal record’

As we count down the final hours of 2015 this is a good moment to remember the importance of celebrating safely. Yes, you read many warnings like this every year, but there is good reason for that. For all the effort that goes into education and prevention in the run-up to every December 31 the evening remains one of the most dangerous times of the year to be on the roads.

As noted by Eugene TV station KEZI, Mothers Against Drunk Driving has reported that fully one-third of traffic fatalities each year involve alcohol. Recognizing the dangers, and in an effort to curb Portland drunk driving, Tri-Met will again be offering free transportation tonight, starting at 8 pm.

As a number of media outlets have noted, New Years Eve traffic fatalities across the state have fallen in recent years. Indeed, two years ago there were no New Year’s traffic fatalities at all. Arrests, however, have steadily risen over the same period, indicating perhaps that if education has been less than a complete success enforcement, at least, goes a long way toward cutting down on accidents. Medford TV station KDRV is warning its viewers to expect “saturation patrols” tonight, and that advice can safely be said to apply throughout the state.

As a Portland drunk driving victims’ attorney I am always saddened to start the new year reading about arrests and deaths on Oregon’s streets and highways, but glad to know that state and local police are doing everything possible to keep all of us safe. Please have a fun and happy New Years Eve, but please also act responsibly: don’t drink and drive, use public transport whenever possible and if you do drive stay off your cellphone (distracted driving and drunk driving are a particularly lethal combination).

 

KEZI: Police increase DUI patrols New Year’s Eve

KDRV: New Years Eve Saturation Patrols

Tri-Met New Years Eve Information Page

I have often written about the fact that we tend to think of distracted driving as something that teens and 20-somethings are especially prone to, despite a growing body of evidence identifying this as a problem that affects every age group.

The latest reminder that this is not just a young person’s issue comes from Greenhouse Management magazine. Under the headline “It Can Wait – Even the Job” the magazine offers some pointed advice: “business owners, CEOs, managers and other figures in the corporate world are slower on the uptake than they should be” at a time when for many of us the demands of the office are such that “daily tasks, such as driving to work, can easily become an afterthought when an important call, text or email comes in.”

The article also raises an noteworthy legal point: “Although it is commonly assumed that employees using personal cellphones in their personal vehicles are liable to nobody but themselves in the event of a crash, (President of consulting firm OperationsInc David) Lewis said the argument could be made that employers are responsible for how and when their employees take and return business calls and messages.” As an Oregon distracted driving lawyer I agree with this analysis. It is a basic principle of law that employers are responsible for what employees do during the course and scope of their jobs.

As the article notes, this danger is reinforced by a work culture here in the United States that frequently insists that employees and managers be available 24/7. The article notes that in some states cases are “making their way through the court system… where the storyline is something along the lines of the company insisting on a standard of individuals answering their phones, responding to emails or texts within a certain period of time, a disregard for the safety of the individual or the laws in place, then an… accident of some type.”

This sort of thing should never happen. As the article notes, quoting a professor from Florida Atlantic University, ”Texting while driving is basically driving for a few seconds blindfolded. In a few seconds, many things can happen.” Moreover, leaving aside the legal aspect of this discussion, no employer should ever put an employee in a situation where they must endanger themselves and others to adhere to company policies. This, again, brings up the legal term ‘course and scope.’ Simply put, if an employer requires an employee to answer the phone or respond to texts or emails immediately no matter what the circumstances then they may be legally liable for the consequences of that policy.

As a Portland distracted driving attorney I am concerned about the growth of a business culture that encourages – at times forces – adults to do things that are patently unsafe. All of us need to set an example for the people around us, and to be aware that distracted driving is a problem at all age levels – not something confined to teens.

 

Greenhouse Management: It Can Wait – Even the Job

A lengthy article published earlier this month by the New York Times (see link below) is a fascinating addition to the growing public conversation here in the United States on youth sports and concussions.

The piece tells the story of one family’s struggle to change the laws related to concussions and youth sports in Scotland after their 14-year-old son “died after being hit in the head multiple times during a rugby match in which he should have been pulled from the field.” In the wake of their son’s death the bereaved parents became very public advocates for a re-thinking of youth sports and partnered with some of Britain’s most prominent doctors to “produce some of the most comprehensive concussion guidelines in the world.” The key difference between Scotland and the United States, according to the paper, is that the governing bodies of individual sports are no longer allowed to set their own protocols for when an athlete should be pulled off the field and how he or she should be assessed. Instead, “blanket guidelines aim to protect all amateur athletes and take the guesswork out of assessing potential concussions by calling for players to be removed from the game at the first suspicion of injury.”

While no equivalent national standard exists here in the United States we in Oregon are lucky enough to have something along these lines at the state level. In 2009 legislation known as “Max’s Law” required Oregon school districts to use a standard set of concussion guidelines. Four years later a companion piece of legislation known as “Jenna’s Law” extended that requirement to non-school athletic programs such as club sports, travel teams and leagues organized at the municipal or county level.

The newspaper notes, Britain’s experience demonstrates just how difficult it is to get something like this approved at a national level. “(Sports) leaders in Britain – where rugby is the biggest full-contact sport that is widely played – resisted calls for action, saying concussions were an American problem synonymous with football and helmets,” the Times reports. The paper also notes that while the change is dramatic, especially where injuries to children are concerned, it will ultimately take time to filter completely into the nation’s sports DNA. Just this month, according to the Times, a 23-year-old British woman died from a head injury sustained playing rugby. The paper reports that she “had sustained ‘a couple’ of other concussions in the past but had taken time off to recuperate.” That, in turn, highlights a lesson we in the United States have been learning in recent years: that the danger in youth sports comes not only from the single large blow, but also from repeated smaller head traumas from which the athlete may only appear to have recovered.

The article quotes the boy’s father poignantly saying about his son and rugby (which was mandatory at the boy’s school) “I had no concerns… My biggest fear was a broken neck or bones, not concussions.” As a Portland TBI lawyer with a special focus on injuries to children I hope everyone will read this story and draw the appropriate lessons from it. All of us who are associated with youth sports need to keep working to improve safety and gain a better understanding of the dangers inherent in every sport. As I noted last month, the United States Soccer Federation has recently introduced rule and procedure changes designed to make the game safer for younger players. It should not take a death or serious injury for everyone in the sports community to learn the painful lessons offered by one British family’s experience.

 

New York Times: How a Boy’s Concussion Death Changed British Sports

OHSU Information page on “Max’s Law”

 

Police say marijuana was involved in last weekend’s hit-and-run death of a Portland cyclist, according to The Oregonian. The newspaper quotes Portland police saying the 38 year old bike rider “was wearing a helmet and the back of his bike was equipped with a flashing red light” when he was struck from behind by a 26-year-old driver.

The fatal Oregon bike accident occurred early Saturday evening “in the 4200 block of Northeast Lombard Street, which is also called Portland Highway.” The Oregonian reports that the driver left the scene of the accident but was arrested shortly thereafter about three miles away. The suspect has been booked “into Multnomah County jail on accusations of second-degree manslaughter, reckless driving and driving under the influence of intoxicants.” The cyclist died at the scene of the Oregon bike accident.

The legalization of recreational marijuana use here in Oregon will create new and potentially challenging legal issues over the coming years, but when looking at an accident like this it is important to keep the basic facts in mind. Based on the published accounts citing local police this fatal bike accident involved an impaired and irresponsible driver.

As a Portland bike accident attorney I am always aware of the many challenges the cycling community faces here in Oregon and elsewhere around the nation. Even in a city that is famously bike-friendly it is a sad fact that riders need to remain extra-alert at all times because too many drivers refuse to share the road or have chosen to get behind the wheel when they are not in a condition to drive.

Education campaigns and stepped-up enforcement are good and necessary, but they will never solve the problem by themselves. I am proud of my record helping the cycling community obtain justice in our courts when its members are killed or injured by irresponsible drivers. With the always-dangerous driving period around New Year’s Eve fast approaching I urge everyone to take special caution this holiday season: looking out for bike riders every time they get behind the wheel, and being responsible to themselves and others by knowing when it is not appropriate to be driving in the first place.

 

The Oregonian: Driver was high on marijuana when he killed NE Portland cyclist, police say

Portland’s drive to eliminate bike and pedestrian deaths within a decade, known as “Vision Zero”, took an important step forward this week with the release of a 78-page “vision statement”, according to a recent blog post by Bike Portland. The document was prepared by the city’s Bureau of Transportation and was distributed to the Vision Zero task force on Monday. In the words of Bike Portland, the document “offers the first glimpse into the concrete steps PBOT might take in this unprecedented safety effort.”

As I wrote a year ago, the “Vision Zero” idea is modeled on a program originally introduced by New York City mayor Bill de Blasio. The goal, in both Portland and New York, is to bring dramatic safety improvements to the city’s streets over the course of a decade and, in doing so, to eliminate pedestrian and cyclist deaths while also making the roads safer for drivers.

A key component of the plan is applying sophisticated data analysis to decision-making about traffic, pedestrian and bike safety. As Bike Portland notes, one slide in this week’s PBOT presentation showed that 62 percent of all fatal crashes in the city involve drugs or alcohol, and that of that total alcohol accounted for eight of every ten crashes. The clear message is that drunk driving education and enforcement must be significant components of any city-wide traffic safety plan.

To this end, Bike Portland reports that city data show that the “four top culprits in traffic deaths and injuries (are) speed, alcohol/drug use, intersections and ‘high crash corridors.’” The group opines that the “barrage of data and analysis… shows PBOT is taking this Vision Zero effort seriously and it sets them up for success later as hard political/project decisions arise.” The Bike Portland blog post (link below) is worth a careful look because of the wealth of data it offers. For example, on a list of the city’s 25 most dangerous intersections for cyclists the corner of SE 11th Ave and SE Hawthorne Blvd tops the list followed closely by the corner of SW 3rd Ave and SW Madison Street with 11 and ten bike and car accidents respectively in the period 2010-2013.

As a Portland bicycle accident lawyer I am glad to see the city moving forward with Vision Zero and glad to see the PBOT taking such a careful, data-driven approach. As the PBOT presentation notes, “in the 10 years between 2004 and 2013 there were 333 fatal crashes and 2,145 serious injuries on Portland’s streets.” It goes without saying that this is entirely too many, and that anything we can do to reduce those numbers significantly is worth exploring. The next step in this process is a meeting of the Vision Zero Task Force on February 25.

 

Bike Portland: For Vision Zero, Portland will focus on data and equity to combat crash causes