May is National Bike Month and to mark the occasion the US Transportation Department’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has released a new set of guidelines designed to promote bike safety in cities and towns across the country.

Formally titled the “Separated Bike Lane Planning and Design Guide” the 147-page document is seeks, according to the official FHWA blog, to outline “planning considerations and design options for this innovative bike facility. It provides information on one and two-way facilities, outlines different options for providing separation.” The report goes out of its way to address “midblock design considerations” – meaning situations in which vehicles need to be allowed to cut across the bike lane to gain curb access – as well as offering advice on how to handle intersections (something Portlanders, with our city’s mixed history of success with bike boxes, know is one of the more tricky elements of bike infrastructure design).

As the news release goes on to state: “The guide builds on our current policy to provide pedestrian and bicycle accommodations and on our support for design flexibility. It will inform the USDOT’s ‘Safer People, Safer Streets’ initiative as well as our efforts to improve access to opportunity for everyone.”

Simply put, the plan is the latest effort by the federal government to extend cycling culture. As an Oregon bike advocacy lawyer I know all too well that even a bike-friendly city like Portland can experience both political and logistical problems in trying to extend bike-friendly infrastructure. Bike lanes separated from traffic – the focus of this USDOT plan – are one of the best and most cost-effective ways to encourage bike riding in urban areas while also increasing safety (a key issue for many novice bike commuters). All of us need to do our best to build cycling culture here in Portland and elsewhere. It is good for the environment, good for public health and good for our community. This report is a welcome reminder that the federal government supports the idea of more extensive bike infrastructure. It is up to all of us to turn that aspiration into reality.

 

USDOT: FHWA introduces Separated Bike Lane Planning and Design Guide

A single-vehicle Portland car accident that killed one person and injured two others spotlights both the dangers of reckless and drunk driving and its broader legal implications, even when a second car is not involved.

According to a report earlier this week in The Oregonian a 29 year old man who was riding in the back seat of an SUV died when he was thrown from the vehicle during “a fatal crash Sunday night off Northwest Skyline Boulevard.” The paper reports that “the SUV rolled down a steep embankment toward the 6600 block of Meridian Ridge Drive where it struck a house and caught fire. Neighbors were able to extinguish the fire and no one in the home was injured.” The newspaper, quoting police, says that the SUV’s 39-year-old driver remains in an area hospital in critical condition. The other passenger, a 30-year-old woman, “was treated for her injuries and released” from the hospital.

As the paper notes, “while the cause of the crash remains under investigation… (police) said it appears that alcohol and excessive speed were both contributing factors.”

The legal consequences from this Oregon car crash could be far-reaching. Because it appears to have involved drunk driving our state’s dram shop laws may come into play. These ensure that a bartender, liquor store clerk or even the host of a social event can be held responsible for providing alcohol to someone who is not in a condition to drive. Because there was a fatality it is also possible that the bereaved family might be able to sue for damages based on an Oregon wrongful death claim.

As a Portland auto accident attorney I see cases like this one far too often. Fast driving, nighttime and alcohol are always a poor combination. The details of this case will bear closer scrutiny as the police make more of them available, and our justice system takes its course.

 

The Oregonian: Police identify driver, passengers in fatal NW Skyline Boulevard crash

Reports late last week that Blue Bell, the troubled Texas-based ice cream company, “will lay off more than a third of its workforce following a series of listeria illnesses linked to its ice cream,” according to the Associated Press, are the latest example of a company putting its profits ahead of responsibility to its workers or to society at large.

As the news agency reports “the 108-year old company’s production plants in Texas, Oklahoma and Alabama have been closed since Blue Bell issued a full recall in April. The company’s ice cream has been linked to listeria illnesses in four states, including three deaths in Kansas.” Though the article quotes the company’s CEO saying “our employees are part of our family” it is difficult to balance that statement against revelations by the Houston Chronicle that the company knew it was distributing unsafe products two years ago, but kept the matter secret and continued with business as usual.

“Blue Bell Creameries found strong evidence of listeria in its Broken Arrow, Oklahoma plant as early as 2013 but failed to improve its sanitation programs, according to findings released… by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,” the newspaper reported last week.

Covering up those problems in the interest of short term profits has, as noted, led to deaths and injuries and now to the loss of hundreds of jobs. It has also exposed the company to legal problems that will probably take years to sort out. If the reports of the company covering up the health risks of its product are correct it is likely to face wrongful death actions brought by the families of the people who died in Kansas and charges of negligence from customers sickened by its tainted products.

As an Oregon and Washington attorney practicing in many of these areas – wrongful deaths, unsafe products, etc – I am saddened to see so much suffering caused, once again, by misplaced priorities in the corporate suite.

 

Houston Chronicle: Blue Bell knew about Listeria contamination, Feds say

AP via Yahoo! News: 1,450 Blue Bell workers losing jobs after listeria problems

 

On this May Day it is appropriate to pause for a moment and give some thought to workplace safety. With that in mind I’d like to highlight a rather stunning statistic that appeared in the pages of The Oregonian this week: more than 54,000 Americans die every year from workplace-linked causes. That figure was part of a report published by the National Council for Occupational Health and Safety, drawing on data gathered by the federal government.

According to the study, in 2013 (the most recent year for which figures are available) 4,585 workers died on the job in the United States. That figure is far too high, but based on what we all know regarding dangerous jobs such as logging, truck driving or working in certain types of industrial facilities it is, perhaps, not overly surprising for a country the size of ours. In addition to that, however: “an additional 50,000 people die each year from long-term exposure to workplace hazards such as asbestos, silica and benzene, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration,” the report said, according to The Oregonian.

That figure is, frankly, stunning, especially when one considers that one of the toxic agents named – asbestos – is a product whose dangers have been known for decades. Add to that the paper’s comment that “proven prevention strategies are available for all the major categories which result in worker deaths, including transportation incidents, contacts with objects and equipment, falls, workplace violence, exposure to harmful substances and environments, and fires and explosions” and one has to ask why these numbers are so high.

The solution, according to the group that compiled the study, is to focus the minds of employers by making worker deaths more costly for them in both financial and reputational terms. “We need tougher penalties. We need prosecutions for criminal violations. And we need to listen to workers, and use proven strategies that protect all workers,” says Mary Vogel of the NCOHS, the group that conducted the study. The paper also notes that her organization is working with organized labor and others to make the safety data (which is drawn from public records) more widely available as a way of highlighting which industries are taking this problem seriously and which ones are not.

As a Portland attorney with a special interest in Oregon industrial accidents, workplace safety and wrongful death cases I am saddened to see numbers like these still plaguing the American workplace in the second decade of the 21st century. I also believe it is important to hold companies to account for the harm they cause to their employees and to our communities. Everyone is entitled to reasonable safety at work – even people doing dangerous jobs should know that appropriate precautions are being taken to protect them. It is especially difficult to read that so many people are dying from preventable illnesses and injuries years or decades after the fact. This is a problem we can and must fix.

 

The Oregonian: New report calls for tougher penalties, safety prevention to reduce U.S. workplace deaths

A recent news release from Portland’s Bicycle Transportation Alliance announced a small but potentially very significant victory for bike safety in our city. “Thanks to coordinated advocacy work on the part of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance and Multnomah County’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Citizen Advisory Committee, fixes to heavy congestion and bike/pedestrian conflicts on Portland’s bridges may be on the horizon,” the BTA says.

The BTA reports that two important projects have been added to the county’s plans for infrastructure upgrades as part of the Willamette Bridge Capital Improvement Plan: a $1.4 million “planning study to identify bike/ped capacity improvements” and $32.6 million in overall design and construction improvements. Equally important, the BTA announced it had been formally informed by the county that these particular projects “have been moved to a timeline that better reflects their urgency” – meaning that cyclists may see progress within five years, as opposed to the six to ten year timetable originally anticipated.

The plan now goes to the Multnomah County commissioners for consideration next month. Sounding a cautionary note, however, the BTA warns that “if it is passed, the next challenge will be to identify funding that will pay for these two projects.”

The BTA notes that in 1999 the sidewalks on the Hawthorne Bridge were widened from six to ten feet “in order to more safely accommodate the growing number of people walking and biking across the bridge.” Within a decade “bicycle traffic on the Hawthorne had increased 224% and a congestion-related crash prompted us to remind riders to slow down, give audible warnings, and encourage planners to design even wider paths in the future.” Last week’s announcement brings that aspiration a step closer to becoming reality.

As a Portland bicycle accident lawyer I am thrilled to be able to share this sort of news with my readers. Portland’s reputation as one of the most bike-friendly cities in America is well-deserved, but there is always room for improvement. It is good to see county planning authorities appearing to share that view.

 

Oregon Bicycle Transportation Alliance: County Amends Bridge Plan to Address BTA/Advisory Committee Concerns

A recently published Oregon State University study demonstrates dramatically that interactive efforts to educate teens about the dangers of distracted driving are far more successful than passive efforts. However, the study also showed that among younger drivers the problem is just as serious as anecdotal evidence would suggest, and that the focus on texting may be diluting the larger message about the risks of Oregon distracted driving.

According to a summary published by EurekAlert, a PR website, the OSU study found that “while many young drivers understand the risks of texting… they are much less aware of other concerns that can be real – eating, drinking, talking on a cell phone, smoking, adjusting the radio, changing a CD, using a digital map and other controls.” The article adds that in addition to a lack of experience behind the wheel “young drivers also have a higher risk tolerance, use seat belts less and choose higher speeds.”

These findings are, perhaps, unsurprising (though the finding that “27 percent of respondents changed clothes or shoes while driving” was a bit eyebrow-raising), but it is good to see data backing up what many people have long believed based on anecdotal observation. The highlight of the study is its conclusion that young drivers react best to safety training that is “interactive” – training that requires young people to do something rather than simply passively watching a film or listening to a lecture. Interactive training, the study found, was far more effective in reinforcing both the importance of safe driving habits and the bad habits which everyone should avoid.

As a Portland distracted driving lawyer I find the results of this study fascinating and hope that both the legislature and the Oregon Department of Transportation will take the appropriate lessons from it. I have written regularly about the importance of education, especially for younger drivers, but the finding here that the nature of the education – its manner of delivery – matters tremendously if the message is going to get across is especially important. With luck it will cause educators to rethink their approach to this problem in the years ahead.

 

EurekAlert: ‘Distracted Driving’ at an all-time high; new approaches needed

A new report by Oregon Public Broadcasting indicates that the Prineville Mill, whose roof collapsed on a snowy morning last November, was warned of the possible danger well in advance. According to OPB the Mill’s own employees raised the alarm to no avail.

Astonishingly, no one was hurt when the roof at Woodgrain Millwork collapsed. That does not, however, change the face that this incident is an almost textbook example of an Oregon industrial accident and a reminder of why our court system is crucial in holding companies to account where their employees safety is concerned.

Plant employees who spoke with OPB “paint a picture of an environment at Woodgrain where building maintenance was lax and the roof leaked for years. The former Woodgrain workers described what they saw as a number of unsafe conditions and potential safety hazards at the mill, even before the roof collapsed.”

OPB also quotes company officials, who take the position that “they could not have predicted that the large section of roof would fall to the ground so suddenly and dramatically.” Unfortunately, this misses the point. From a legal perspective the question is not whether or not company officials could or should have anticipated a collapse at any particular time. It is whether they fulfilled their on-going duty to maintain a safe work facility, to perform adequate maintenance and to provide appropriate safety training and gear to their employees and any contractors working in their facility. OPB notes that investigators from the state Occupational Safety and Health administration arrived at the mill “three days after the roof collapse… in response to an anonymous complaint.” OPB notes that “Oregon OSHA confirmed with the company that the roof had a history of leaks” but did not, in the end, issue a citation to Woodgrain.

As an Oregon Industrial Accident Lawyer I plan to watch this case closely over the coming weeks and months. If the OPB reports are accurate it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Woodgrain Millwork was a company that placed profits ahead of worker safety. Had any of the workers been injured there would be a potential case against the company for lost wages in addition to pain and suffering. The broader issue is that OSHA and other government agencies, along with our court system, need to work to ensure that companies adhere to their responsibilities to workers. Health and safety have to come first.

 

Oregon Public Broadcasting: Workers Alerted Company to Problems With Prineville Mill Roof Before Collapse

With the return of baseball there is also renewed interest this week in “subrogation” – a term that most non-lawyers aren’t familiar with, but one which could ruin the lives of many accident victims here in Oregon and elsewhere even as it enriches their insurance companies.

As outlined in a recent Bloomberg Business story, subrogation, a concept whose origins lie in the American Revolution, is a legal doctrine that allows insurance companies to claim damages from third parties in cases where they must pay claims. “An insurer, for instance, might seek to be repaid by the maker of a faulty furnace that caused a fire in a building the company covered,” the news agency writes. Few would argue with a straightforward example like that, but as is so often the case in modern America big business has turned a well-intentioned legal doctrine on its head in the service of its own bottom lines.

What has brought subrogation into sudden focus is the case of Bryan Stow, the San Francisco Giants fan who was beaten nearly to death in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium on Opening Day four years ago. Last year, Bloomberg reports, Stow won an $18 million judgment against the Dodgers and his two assailants (both of whom are now in prison) but “he has yet to receive any money” because his insurance company is aggressively using the legal system to try to claim millions from the settlement. This is happening even as his medical bills continue to mount, and as the 46-year-old faces a life of hospital visits, physical therapy and expensive ongoing medical care – not to mention decades of lost wages and the long-term emotional effect on him and his family.

That may seem deeply unfair, but it is a practice that was specifically allowed by the Supreme Court more than a decade ago, despite the fact that “all but two states either ban subrogation outright or limit how much insurers can collect.” The trick is that federal law trumps state law, and unbeknownst to most Americans the health insurance they receive through their employers is issued under federal statutes (even if it is regulated at the state level), Bloomberg notes. “More than 90 percent of workers with medical coverage at the largest US corporations are insured this way, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation,” Bloomberg writes.

As a Portland personal injury attorney I urge everyone reading this to contact their federal lawmakers and lobby for a change that restores fairness to the law. No one who has paid years of insurance premiums should ever be forced to discover in the wake of an industrial accident, or the sort of assault Bryan Snow endured, that the law is more interested in making their insurance company whole than in seeing that they get the care they need and the justice they deserve. Insurance is supposed to offer peace of mind – not an extra set of legal battles to fight.

 

Bloomberg Business: How an insurer is taking money from the fan beaten at Dodger Stadium

An article last week in The Oregonian spotlighted efforts to improve pedestrian safety and prevent pedestrian and car accidents in the areas east of Interstate 205. According to the newspaper, in the last year the city has embarked on a $1.75 million program “to build 17 beacons at dangerous pedestrian safety crossings.”

The article quotes State Representative Shemia Fagan, who it describes as the driving force behind the project, calling the beacons an important safety improvement in a part of our city where news all too frequently is “sad, or scary or downright tragic.”

In the year since Fagan began pushing the issue only five of the planned 17 beacons have been installed (the first of the two links to The Oregonian provided below will also take you to a map which shows both where beacons have already been installed and locations where they are planned). The locations, which the newspaper describes as “problematic intersections”: “were identified and prioritized through the East Portland In Motion plan… a community process approved in 2012.” Funding for the project comes from the state.

As a Portland lawyer who represents pedestrian and car accident victims this is a project I hope will eventually expand, and one I hope will eventually expand. Over the last few years our city has seen too many avoidable deaths and injuries at intersections. Indeed, pedestrian deaths have recently risen throughout the state, according to The Oregonian, from 52 in 2013 to 56 last year.

There is no way to say whether flashing beacons like those being installed east of I-205 would have prevented any particular accident, but when it comes to reducing that number to zero, the state’s investment in flashing beacons at 17 key Portland intersections is a good beginning.

 

The Oregonian: Portland moving forward on 12 pedestrian crossing projects east of I-205 (map)

The Oregonian: Oregon traffic deaths jumped 13 percent in 2014. Are low gas prices to blame?

 

A recent article in the Keizer Times highlighted the story of a local man who is struggling to recover after an Oregon bicycle accident involving a drunk driver. According to the newspaper the 59-year old “had plans to compete in some bicycle competitions this summer,” instead he is now working to recover from extensive injuries as he and his family look for a longer-term rehab facility.

The newspaper reports that the accident took place March 14 when the cyclist was riding “near Antelope in Central Oregon.” Citing a State Police report, the paper says a 56-year-old woman “was driving a 2007 Toyota Tundra and pulling a trailer westbound on Highway 218 in Wasco County when the right side of her pick-up hit” the bike rider. The driver left the scene of the accident and was later “arrested and charged with driving under the influence of intoxicants, failure to perform the duties of a driver, reckless driving and second-degree assault.”

The cyclist was initially taken to a local hospital and later moved to a different hospital in Bend. He suffered “four broken ribs on the left side, several breaks in his lower left leg, a broken left scapula (shoulder blade), a cut on the left side of his temple and a concussion,” according to the Keizer Times. A friend describes him as “recovering as well as can be expected.”

This accident is a reminder of the importance of safe driving around cyclists, but also of the damage that drunk drivers can do. As an Oregon bike accident attorney I see cases like this far too often, even here in bike-friendly Portland, and also see too many families struggling to cope with the medical bills and the pain and suffering that inevitably follow in the wake of a crash like this. Our civil courts exist in large part to help Oregonians obtain justice after accidents like this. The criminal court system can hold a drunk driver to account, but it is through our parallel system of civil courts that victims can obtain the full measure of justice they deserve following an accident like this.

 

Keizer Times: Bicyclist Recovering After Hit