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

A blog post this week from Bike Portland contained some good news for all of us concerned about bike and car accidents here in the city: “After more than a year of focused activism… one of Portland’s highest-traffic neighborhood greenways has been chosen as the site of a traffic calming pilot project.”

The announcement referred to Clinton Street where, it said, Portland will soon begin building a series of “diverters, speed bumps and signage” designed to slow down traffic in an area that a city study found “has some of the higher auto traffic volumes and speeds in the neighborhood greenway system” according to Bike Portland.

The group notes that “Diverters are already used on many neighborhood greenways to allow foot and bike traffic while blocking car traffic at certain intersections, preventing it from being useful to non-local car traffic.” (if you are unsure what exactly a “diverter” is click on the link below and look at the photo accompanying the article)

The group said that much of the credit for the city’s announcement belongs to local activists who have focused attention on the “perception that Clinton Street has become too thick with fast-moving motor traffic in the last few years. Some people say this is preventing the street from serving as the all-ages bikeway it’s supposed to be.

As a Portland attorney with a special interest in bikes and bike advocacy I am excited by this announcement, despite its limited, and in some ways tentative, scope. The program in question is only an experiment. Bike Portland’s post was careful to note that the exact nature of the changes along Clinton Street – including a final decision about whether or not to use diverters and whether they will be permanent – remains to be made. That means that none of us in the cycling community can take this victory for granted. Like all civic infrastructure projects the Clinton Street modifications will be subject to much additional planning and review. It is up to all of us to keep the pressure up, and to do everything we can to guarantee that the final modifications are as significant and effective as the cycling community hopes.

 

Bike Portland: City says diverters possible on SE Clinton Street this summer

An article published yesterday in the Washington Post reported that since early last year the federal government has been “investigating a potentially high rate of trailer separations.” The research focuses specifically on a particular type of trailer hitch used on semi-trailer trucks, known as the “Ultra LT.” According to the paper the Ultra LT is manufactured by Alabama-based Fontaine Fifth Wheel.

“The Ultra LT could be in use on as many as 6,000 semis across the nation,” the Post reports. According to the newspaper the company is cooperating with the government investigation.

This potentially unsafe product, and the Oregon truck accidents it may lead to, is a cause for special worry because it has been nearly 18 months since the Ohio accident that set the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s investigation in motion.

The government’s slow action is especially worrisome since the NHTSA investigated these exact hitches in 2011. At that time the “NHTSA found 12 complaints about the hitches, plus one crash with no injuries.” Surely, however, a repeat occurrence of the alleged problem should have attracted attention at the agency. Indeed, the newspaper notes that “the safety agency could face criticism for failing to analyze its own data to uncover a safety problem – the same failure that delayed recalls of defective General Motors ignition switches and faulty Takata air bags.” The NHTSA says it acted properly, according to the Post.

As an Oregon and Washington truck accident victims’ lawyer I will be watching this case closely. As I have written on many previous occasions, accidents involving large trucks – semis in particular – are a major problem on Oregon’s roads. We are a largely rural state with vast forests and a trucking industry that serves our timber industry – often using dangerous mountain roads in the process. All Oregonians have a right to expect that the trucks with which they share the road are properly inspected and that the government, in turn, does its job in setting necessary safety standards.

 

Washington Post: Tractor-trailer hitches could be faulty, 6000 may be in use

Today the federal government is announcing a partnership with Google aimed at preventing accidents at railroad crossings, according to the New York Times. The newspaper reports that the Federal Railroad Administration will work with the tech giant “to provide the locations of all grade crossings” and make them available on Google’s maps.

The initiative follows “a sharp increase in the number of rail crossing accidents last year,” according to the Times. “Last year, 270 people died in highway-rail collisions, up from 232 the previous year, and 843 people were injured, according to federal safety statistics… Grade crossing accidents are the second-highest cause of rail fatalities after trespassing accidents, which killed 533 people last year.”

The scope of the project, however, is vast, which may be part of the reason why there is no target date for its completion. According to the Times there are well over 200,000 grade crossings nationwide. By pinpointing those locations in the mapping software that runs phones, GPS units and car navigation systems the company hopes, initially, to make it clearer where the danger spots lie. Over time it should eventually be possible to include information warning about oncoming trains in real time. According to the Times the FRA is also reaching out to Apple, MapQuest, TomTom and Garmin with proposals for similar programs.

As a Portland personal injury and wrongful death attorney I am very happy to see this effort to combine technology with a wealth of government data. It is an excellent example of a public-private partnership focused on making everyone’s lives safer.

 

New York Times: Agency Taps Mapping Technology to Curb Rail Crossing Accidents

A three-vehicle Oregon car accident near Tillamook this weekend took the life of a 79 year old man from Aloha, Oregon in Washington County.

The Oregonian, citing the Oregon State Police, reports that the accident took place on State Route 6 Saturday afternoon when “a 2013 Hyundai Elantra… was stopped on Wilson River Loop and attempting to turn east onto Oregon 6 when it pulled out in front of a westbound 2003 Chevrolet Silverado. The Silverado’s 16-year-old driver attempted but was unable to stop and collided with the driver’s side of the sedan.” As the crash unfolded both of the vehicles then hit a third.

The driver of the Elantra was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident, according to The Oregonian, while his passenger, a 78-year-old woman was “airlifted to a Portland-area hospital.” There were no reported injuries to either the teenager driving the Silverado or to any of the three people in the third vehicle – among them a three-year-old child. According to the newspaper all of the occupants of all three vehicles were wearing seat belts.

As an Oregon auto accident lawyer I am always saddened to see cases like this, where a single driving mistake appears to have set off a chain of events effecting many people with fatal consequences. The aftermath of this Oregon car crash will take many weeks if not months to sort out as the injured recover and a grieving family struggles to get on with its life. The sort of careful safety measures and infrastructure improvements I have often written about on this blog are essential if we are to improve safety on our streets and highways. The first responsibility for safety, however, always lies with each of us whenever we get behind the wheel.

 

The Oregonian: Oregon 6 Crash near Tillamook claims life on Aloha man

On the eve of a US Senate hearing focused on the Takata airbag recall, Senate Democrats have issued “a 45-page report into the nation’s largest-ever recall of about 34 million vehicles by 11 automakers for air bags that can explode and send shrapnel flying,” according to the Detroit News. The paper notes that it was only last Friday that the airbag manufacturer acknowledged an eighth documented death linked to its defective safety equipment.

According to the newspaper, the Senate report found that more than a decade after engineers first became aware of the problem “no one can identify a root cause for the ruptures.” The defect in the Takata airbags causes the gas canisters used to inflate the bags to explode, sending potentially lethal shrapnel flying into the faces and bodies of people riding in the car.

As company executives prepare to face Congress another fact reported by the Detroit News is even more shocking. According to the Senate document, even the replacement parts Takata is providing to millions of families here in Oregon and around the country are not necessarily safe. “Takata is currently producing hundreds of thousands of replacement inflators each month that may or may not completely eliminate the risk of air bag rupture,” the report says. The idea that the company is replacing defective and potentially fatal air bag inflators with parts that may themselves also be defective is difficult to comprehend.

What little good news there is to this story can be found in another recent announcement: that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s database of VIN numbers of recalled vehicles (see below for link) now includes information linked to the Takata recalls, though even there the NHTSA site, safecar.gov, warns visitors to check back regularly if they fear they may be impacted by the Takata recall. It notes that information on the vast number of cars effected is still being updated and fed into the system, so that even now the database cannot be considered complete.

As a Portland car accident and defective products attorney I can honestly say that a recall on the scale Takata and its automaker partners face is truly unprecedented. The fact that the company had been aware of potentially fatal issues with its airbag systems but chose to do nothing for years speaks to the worst aspects of corporate America’s bottom-line culture. We are lucky to live in a society where ordinary people can use the courts to obtain justice in cases like this.

 

Detroit News: Takata: report on delayed airbag recalls not accurate

 

Resource:

Safecar.gov: Look up recalls by VIN