A fatal stabbing at a niteclub in Northeast Portland last week has led to a murder charge, according to a report published in The Oregonian. It also raises a significant civil law question, however, one that deserves greater public attention as the case unfolds in the weeks and months to come.

According to the newspaper a 29-year-old woman was stabbed to death in a club on NE 60th Avenue last week following an argument with a 23-year-old woman. Citing police the newspaper reports that the two women knew each other. The victim died at the scene and the alleged killer was arrested without incident shortly thereafter at a nearby convenience store. In addition to murder the suspect has been charged with unlawful use of a weapon, according to the newspaper.

What makes this case particularly interesting from a civil perspective is the long history of violence in or near the club. According to The Oregonian “the club has been connected with violence in the past. A 33-year-old man died and a 21-year-old woman was injured in an overnight shooting outside the club in 2013. And in January 2011 a man celebrating his 24th birthday was fatally shot outside the club.”

The death over the holiday weekend of a well-known figure in Brooklyn’s cycling community is being investigated by police as a possible intentional hit-and-run, according to the local website Gothamist. The death is focusing attention once again on the dangers the cycling community faces even in cities that strive to be bike-friendly.

The website, citing law enforcement sources and a local television station, reports “that the driver of a black Chevy Camero intentionally crashed into (the victim) around 2:20am Saturday” on a Brooklyn street as he was riding home from his job as a bartender in Manhattan. Video of the incident was captured by a security camera at a restaurant near the scene of the fatal bike and car crash.

It is especially important to note that the victim was riding in a bike lane at the time of the incident. “Investigators believe the driver pulled alongside… slowed down and moved the car partially into the bike lane, where the victim was riding… the driver then hit (the bicycle’s) rear tire and as the victim fell off his bike the driver slammed into him again, running over him and dragging him about 20 to 30 feet.”

It is a sad, if well-established, fact that an improving economy and lower gas prices tend also to lead to increased traffic deaths throughout the United States. A recent Associated Press article, republished by The Oregonian, documented how true this statistical trend remains.

“Traffic deaths surged last year as drivers racked up more miles behind the wheel than ever,” the news agency writes. “Fatalities rose 7.7 percent to 35,200 in 2015, said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Last year was the deadliest driving year since 2008, when 37,423 people were killed. It was also the year in which Americans drove 3.1 trillion miles. More than ever before.” What is striking, however, is the revelation that “the Northwest region, including Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska, saw the nation’s biggest increase in fatalities with a 20 percent jump.” The article also notes that motorcycle-related fatalities “are a bigger and bigger percentage of deaths each year.”

Analysts have debated for years why traffic deaths go up during better economic times. The article quotes a spokesman for the Insurance Institute, an industry research and lobbying group, saying: “it’s not just that Americans drive more miles when the economy improves, it’s the kind of miles they drive… what comes back after a recession is the optional driving that’s riskier, like going out on the weekends or taking long trips.”

Last Friday was a significant day in Gresham. It marked the first anniversary of the death of 13-year-old Aaron Peters, and also the dedication of what family and friends hope will be the first of many monuments built in his memory.

A gathering in Gresham’s Oxbow Park, near the site on the Sandy River where Aaron drowned last year, marked the dedication of a life jacket kiosk funded with money raised by the Aaron Peters Water Safety Fund. The kiosk offers several dozen life jackets in sizes from infant to adult. They are available for free as loans to anyone using the park who wants or needs them. “We don’t want any family to go through what we did. If one person is saved it’s all worth it,” Aaron’s grandfather, Don Wood, told television station KGW at the ceremony.

Through the fund the family hopes the Oxbow Park kiosk will be only the first of many. Statistics compiled by the Centers for Disease Control indicate that drowning is a surprisingly widespread problem, especially among children and teenagers. “From 2005-2014 there were an average of 3,536 fatal unintentional drownings (non-boating related) annually in the United States – about 10 deaths per day,” the CDC website reports. It goes on to note that while small children are more likely to drown in a swimming pool “the percentage of drownings in natural water settings, including lakes, rivers and oceans increases with age.” Among teens 15 and older 57% of all drownings take place in natural waters. Since rivers are rarely protected by lifeguards the presence of a kiosk like the one dedicated in Gresham last Friday can make all the difference for a child or adult wanting to take advantage of the river.

An account in The Oregonian this week of a bereaved mother suing both a property management company and a window blind manufacturer in the wake of the death of her 3-year-old daughter is drawing attention to yet another preventable household safety hazard.

According to the newspaper, the toddler was visiting a family friend with her mother in February 2015 “when she became entangled in a dangling cord.” The girl’s mother “was in the same room with her, but hadn’t realized what was happening until it was too late, said a lawyer for the estate.” The suit targets both the property management company that ran the apartment complex in Clackamas, and “blind manufacturer Newell Window Furnishings for allegedly allowing cords longer than 7-1/4 inches to hang from the window covering at the apartment complex” the newspaper reports. That length is the standard recommended by Parents for Window Blind Safety and other advocacy groups.

What is particularly striking about this case is the revelation that the management company allegedly failed “to remove dangerous cords from the apartment even after recalls and retrofitting efforts initiated by blinds makers in 1994 and again in 2000.” One has to ask, however, if the industry has been aware of this critical safety issue for more than 20 years, why are blinds with dangerously long cords still in apartments and homes anywhere?

I have written on many occasions about the scandal surrounding the millions of defective airbags manufactured by the Takata Corporation. These “have been linked to at least 13 deaths worldwide and more than 100 injuries,” according to The New York Times. The recall of some 60 million vehicles equipped with this faulty safety equipment is an ongoing scandal of truly global proportions.

An editorial published earlier this month in The Times, however, is a jarring reminder of what happens when the public’s attention wanders and pressure for change wanes. According to the newspaper “just 8.4 million affected cars had been repaired as of May 20… Last year, the secretary of transportation, Anthony Foxx, said an estimated 20 percent of recalled cars are never repaired, and perhaps more.”

That would be bad enough. But, shockingly: “even now, four automakers – Fiat Chrysler, Toyota, Volkswagen and Mitsubishi – are selling new cars that contain the faulty airbags, according to a new report by Democrats on the Senate Commerce Committee. And Fiat Chrysler and Toyota have refused to disclose which of their models contain the devices,” according to The Times. As an Oregon dangerous products attorney I find this stunning.

An illegal pass attempted by the driver of a semi-truck near Burns last week left the driver of an oncoming car dead and her passenger hospitalized in critical condition, according to The Oregonian.

The newspaper writes that the Oregon truck crash took place on US-20, near milepost 156. First responders arriving on the scene found the semi-truck “tangled with a Ford Focus to the side of the road.” Citing law enforcement sources, the paper reports that the truck “was towing a flatbed trailer westbound on the highway when (the driver) attempted to pass a slower motorhome in a no-passing area with double yellow lines.” The driver of the Focus, which was traveling in the eastbound lane “attempted to avoid the collision by swerving into a ditch, but (the truck) attempted the same maneuver… they crashed near the edge of the highway.”

The driver of the car died at the scene of the head-on semi-truck crash. Her passenger was flown to a Portland hospital with life-threatening injuries. The truck driver “was taken to the Harney County Hospital, where he was treated for minor injuries,” the newspaper reports.

John Oliver made a big splash last weekend by highlighting the unsettling, and ridiculously lightly-regulated, world of medical debt collection, but a much longer and more serious story published a few days earlier by NPR adds significant depth to reporting on this undercovered issue.

The NPR piece (linked below) details how non-profit hospitals across the country have abused their tax-free status to pursue poor Americans in court. When discussions about universal health care take place in this country it is stories like these that we need to focus on: people who are driven into bankruptcy or who do not get the health care they need because they lack the money to pay outrageous medical bills. That these people are being hounded in court by institutions that also enjoy tax-free status is simply unconscionable.

A search at ProPublica, the public interest journalism website, yields tax filings for dozens of non-profit hospitals here in Oregon. As Oregon Public Broadcasting recently noted, that tax status is predicated on the idea that hospitals which are not in business to turn a profit will do substantial charity work and forgive medical debt whenever it is practical. Yet as OPB documents, between 2014 and 2015 the funds devoted to charitable health care dropped by more than a third here in Oregon, despite the fact that during this time period Obamacare was bringing many more low income patients into our state’s hospitals.

Something to consider as summer begins: According to The Oregonian there are “more than 300 carnival rides with valid permits in the state.” But it is worth asking what, exactly, those permits mean. Many Oregonians visiting a traveling carnival this summer may assume that the state permit posted prominently on each ride means it has been inspected by the by a government official for safe operation and maintenance. As the newspaper outlines, however, that is not really the case.

“When it comes to carnival ride regulation, Oregon falls somewhere in the middle, between California – a state with a dense thicket of amusement park and carnival regulations – and Alabama, where regulation is essentially nonexistent,” the newspaper reported recently. “Oregon doesn’t have a government-funded inspection program. Instead it relies on insurance companies to verify that each ride has been inspected and is ready for use.” Carnivals send the forms provided by their insurance companies to the state, pay a $28 fee and, in return, receive their permits from the Oregon Building Codes Division. While federal standards for carnival rides do exist (they are issued by the Consumer Product Safety Commission) adherence to them is voluntary, The Oregonian reports.

According to the newspaper, Oregon is lucky in one respect: because Washington has much stricter rules, and because many inspectors work in both states, “almost by default, Oregon ends up following Washington’s more stringent regulations.” The same inspector would be paid by the carnival operator in Oregon but by the state inspections body when working in Washington.

Controversy over a $1.45 million settlement between the state and the families of two state employees who died in an Oregon highway crash in 2014 has caused some to lose sight of the real importance of the case. As The Oregonian reported over the weekend, the settlement was relatively large by Oregon standards, but, as lawyers consulted by the newspaper noted, that may be because “the (victims’) estates had a strong case against the state.”

According to the newspaper the couple, both employees of the Oregon State Hospital, died in the fall of 2014 “when a pickup veered across I-5 and hit… (their) 1993 Nissan Sentra head-on. From a legal perspective there were two especially important points to note about this Oregon wrongful death case. The first is something relatively rare – a successful lawsuit focused mainly on faulty road design. The second is the way that this incident demonstrates the careful weighing of responsibility our courts are called on to make in cases like this.

As The Oregonian writes, the argument that the man and woman’s deaths were the result mainly of faulty road design was particularly strong. “In the month after their deaths, an investigation by The Oregonian found that the Oregon Department of Transportation had delayed the installation of a median cable barrier on that 5-mile stretch of freeway despite public recognition of the need for it dating back to 1996.” Had a proper cable barrier been in place there is a strong possibility that the pickup would never have been able to cross all the way into the opposite lane.