The Oregonian is reporting that a fire this week at the Western Star truck factory on Swan Island caused over half a million dollars in damage and has slowed production at the facility. As details of the blaze emerge, it is also becoming apparent that the incident raises significant employment liability law issues and may also merit investigation as a possible Oregon industrial accident.

 

According to the newspaper, “the fire started when sparks created by an employee grinding near the plant’s paint booth ignited flammable liquids in the area. The fire bypassed the sprinkler system and spread to the ceiling.”

 

Here in Oregon an employment liability law claim can be brought against employers who fail to install or properly maintain safety equipment or who don’t give employees the safety training they need to carry out their jobs. Based on the media reports about this factory fire several of these conditions ought at least to be open to examination. Why were flammable materials anywhere near the place where an employee was doing a job that produces sparks? How was it that a fire moving along the ceiling failed to trigger the sprinkler system? Was there flammable residue on the ceiling itself that helped spread the fire and, if so, how did it get there? These questions raise issues related to both training and maintenance procedures at the plant and all need to be examined closely in the days and weeks to come.

 

As a Portland employment liability attorney I look at situations like this and am reminded why we need laws to protect the health and safety of both workers and of people who live near industrial facilities. A company’s bottom line should never be padded at the expense of its employees or the wider community.

 

On a side note, it is also a little shocking to see the paper quoting a company spokesman saying that “idled employees can use sick leave or vacation days to continue to be paid as clean-up continues.” The paper notes that “normal operations could resume Thursday” but it seems rather petty of the company to dock the pay of workers who are unable to do their jobs because the company’s sprinkler system failed to function properly. This, too, is a reminder of the important role our courts play in ensuring fairness in employer-employee relations.

 

 

The Oregonian: Western Star trucks plant partially idled after blaze that caused $510,000 in damages

I want to take some time today to bring to readers’ attention an organization with an important message for Oregonians: The Coalition Against Bigger Trucks, or CABT. The CABT has won my support, because of the nuanced and thoughtful approach it takes to a problem that is especially significant in states like Oregon, where semi-truck accidents are a regular presence on our roads – especially in the rural east of our state. These trucks pose persistent problems, and have well-known safety issues. Yet left to their own devices truck owners and shippers are pressing for more and bigger trucks to be allowed on our roads, even on the small rural roads where they pose the greatest danger to other drivers.

 

As the organization’s website notes: “Semitrailer trucks play a vital role in the US economy and transportation system, but longer, heavier trucks endanger motorists, weaken our roads and bridges, and cost taxpayers billions of dollars every year in highway subsidies.” Simply put, CABT is not against trucks, but it is against allowing trucking companies to put ever-bigger, ever-more dangerous vehicles on our highways. It supports reasonable, common-sense regulations, something which regular readers will know I have always advocated in all of the areas covered by my practice.

 

The facts behind this campaign are compelling. According to CABT, federal government figures show that double and triple trailer trucks “could be expected to experience an 11-percent higher overall fatal crash rater than single-trailer combinations.” The organization notes that this figure is also backed up by private research. The group reports that larger trucks stand a significantly greater chance of tipping over because “heavier trucks tend to have a higher center of gravity because the additional weight is typically stacked vertically.”

 

As an Oregon truck accident lawyer I see all too often the terrible results that come from truck drivers being pushed too hard by shippers. Drivers spend too much time behind the wheel, often hauling loads that are too large in trucks that are unsafe. Please take a moment to look at the CABT website (link below) and learn more about this important issue.

 

Coalition Against Bigger Trucks website

The New York Times reported last week on an incident in Maryland that combines distracted driving and drunk driving but has a particularly eyebrow-raising aspect to it: the alleged culprit is reported to be “an Episcopal bishop (who) got into her car, her blood-alcohol level far above the legal limit” and, while texting behind the wheel, is reported to have struck and killed a cyclist.

 

According to the newspaper, citing the State’s Attorney’s office in Baltimore, where the incident took place, the bishop allegedly left the scene of the accident, though she did return approximately half an hour later. “The state’s attorney for Baltimore City announced charges… including criminal negligent manslaughter, driving while impaired and texting, and leaving the scene of an accident,” the New York Times reported. Perhaps even more surprising is the revelation that the bishop had “a history of driving while intoxicated,” according to the newspaper.

 

As is always the case in situations like this, so many details concerning this fatal DUI bike accident are simply tragic. According to the Times, the alleged drunk driver had pled “guilty to driving under the influence in 2010.” As one might also expect there have been accusations that the case has received special treatment because of the prominent public position of the accused drunk driver, who is the number two official in the Episcopal Church in Maryland.

 

This situation highlights something I have often written about on this blog: the important role our courts play in leveling the playing field when the prominent and the powerful are involved in legal situations. My point is not whether the Bishop is guilty or not of the charges against her, but, rather, the fact that her prominent position must not grant her treatment different from what you or I would receive in a similar situation.

 

I often describe myself on this blog as an Oregon and Washington DUII and Distracted Driving lawyer, but the more important point is that I am an advocate: an advocate for people who might believe that the legal system is stacked against them, but who need to know that its most important function is to level the differences between rich and poor, between the powerful and the everyday Oregonian. Our courts are one of the most important institutions preserving our democracy. That requires that they remain independent both of political pressure and of social pressure, regardless of the title held by any particular defendant.

 

 

New York Times: The Bishop, the Cyclist and a Death on the Road

Raised awareness of the frequency of concussions among young people, particularly athletes, and the importance of treating them properly has led to a growing amount of scientific research on the subject. A particular focus of attention has been the best way to treat people in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic brain injury. Athletes, of course, should be removed from a game immediately, but the longer-term question of treatment during the days following an accident has received less attention.

 

According to a recent article in the New York Times new research is questioning one commonly recommended post-TBI treatment technique. Known as “cocoon therapy” the procedure, according to the newspaper, “entails mostly lying in a dark room for multiple days.” The Times reports that a new study suggests that among children “resting for longer than 24 to 48 hours is not beneficial for most young patients.”

 

“More isn’t always better,” the paper quotes a doctor at UCLA saying. “There was no advantage to prolonged rest.” It adds that this was not the conclusion the researchers expected to find when they set up the clinical trial. Instead, the study “found that the patients advised to rest for five days reported more physical symptoms like headache and nausea in the first few days, and more often experienced emotional symptoms like irritability and sadness over 10 days… The available evidence suggests that young patients with a concussion should rest away from school and work for the first 24 to 48 hours, experts said.”

 

One study, of course, is far from definitive in the medical world. As a Portland TBI lawyer I do, however, think it is important for all of us to see and analyze these results in their broader context. The mere fact that the study took place is only the latest sign that American popular culture is finally taking youth TBI seriously. As I have noted in many previous blogs we still have too many coaches at all levels of sports will tell kids to ‘shake off’ a potentially serious injury. League rules, public pressure and a growing awareness of the seriousness of youth TBI are beginning to change that. It is a lengthy – probably generational – process, but one we all need to continue to advocate for. In the meantime we also should not lose sight of the fact that research like this, though often driven by sports, has important lessons for people recovering car, motorcycle or bike accidents, falls and many other head or brain injuries far removed from the playing field. It is important information for both doctors and Oregon families to keep in mind, because most TBI injuries take place far from the playing field.

 

 

The New York Times: Limiting Rest is Found to Help Young Concussion Patients

An article that appeared this week in the New York Times detailed the legal struggles of some of the victims of General Motors’ corporate negligence – struggles made worse by misguided laws designed to protect corporate bottom lines at the expense of public health and safety.

 

As I have written about many times this year, the giant auto maker is in serious legal trouble as evidence has emerged that it knew for years about defects in its cars’ ignition switches but did little to fix them. As the Times notes, “Today, at least 42 people are known to have died in crashes linked to the defective ignition switch, and both GM and federal safety regulators have come under fire for allowing the danger to linger for more than a decade.”

 

What could make a situation like this even worse? A legal system that limits the damages a bereaved family can collect. The Times article details the struggle of two Wisconsin families. Both lost loved ones to the GM defect, but neither was able to get any Wisconsin attorney to take their case because of a state law capping damage awards at $350,000. Every law firm approached by both families eventually decided that the limit on potential damages made it impossible for them to fight a huge company like GM without ultimately losing money.

 

Here in Oregon we too have some limits on awards in cases like these. Oregon law limits awards in wrongful death cases to $500,000, for example. There are also limits on the amount one can collect when suing a public body (i.e. the State, a County government, etc). The usual reasons given for laws like these are efforts to reduce frivolous lawsuits and excessive jury awards. As a Portland attorney who sees every day the difficulties ordinary Oregonians face when trying to hold a large company accountable for the harm it has done, it is clear that this reasoning is backwards.

 

The entire reason we have a legal system that combines judges with juries is to ensure that outcomes are fair to everyone: that evidence is weighed and decisions are reached which apportion responsibility in a fair and just manner. That end, however, cannot be achieved when the table is tilted toward one party in a lawsuit. At its worst, such a system allows the rich to bring disproportionate resources to bear on a case and, as a result, to win by default. That is not the way the system is supposed to work, and it is not a situation that builds the public confidence our legal system depends on.

 

 

New York Times: Victims of GM Deadly Defect Fall Through Legal Cracks

With the New Year’s holiday fast approaching this is a good time to remind everyone of the importance of avoiding Oregon drunk driving. As I have written about in previous years, New Year’s Eve is often a time when people over-indulge, including people who would never think of drinking and driving at other times of the year. The good news is that here in Portland Tri-Met is doing its part to help cut down on holiday drunk driving.

 

According to a news release from Tri-Met “all service is free after 8 p.m. on New Year’s Eve.” Buses will be on their regular weekday schedules as will Blue, Green and Yellow MAX trains. Late night service will continue at 30 minute intervals until shortly after 3 a.m. MAX Red Line trains will be on a normal schedule, with shuttle buses to the airport picking up after train service stops for the night. The Portland Streetcar will also operate a normal weekday schedule.

 

As a recent article in The Oregonian noted, an analysis by the newspaper found that on New Year’s Eve 2011 and New Year’s Day 2012 “there were 82 fatal accidents involving at least one drunken driver, one of them in Oregon… More than half of the deaths on New Year’s Days from 2008 to 2012 involved at least one drunken driver, more than any other holiday, an analysis by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found.”

 

As a Portland drunk driving victims’ lawyer I’m making this blog post to remind everyone of the importance of staying safe this New Year’s Eve, and throughout the long holiday weekend. The fact that New Year’s related drunk driving deaths never seem to go away completely does not mean that all of us should not do everything we can to keep the numbers down – both for our own sakes and for those of our families and friends.

 

Have a safe and happy holiday.

 

The Oregonian: Free Tri-Met Service after 8 p.m. on New Year’s Eve has personal meaning for bus driver

 

Tri-Met Statement on Free Service

 

The death of a patient at the Oregon State Hospital one year ago next week has led to the filing of a lawsuit, according to a recent article in the Salem Statesman-Journal. The case raises noteworthy Oregon wrongful death issues, and is worth exploring here.

 

According to the newspaper, the man’s family alleges that his “death was the direct result of hospital staff retaliating when he alerted police and the media to patient sexual abuse in the hospital.” The 48-year-old man died last January “after telling friends and family he feared for his life.”

 

The newspaper reports that in August 2013 the man had alerted hospital officials to an alleged case of sexual abuse involving a nurse and a patient. When the man felt the hospital did not react appropriately he “told the Oregon State Police, the Statesman-Journal and The Oregonian.” Shortly afterwards the man was allegedly moved to a different ward, put under round-the-clock watch by the hospital staff and given medications that “put him in a state of near-constant sedation.” The lawsuit filed by his family alleges that all of this was unnecessary and significantly contributed to the man’s death.

 

It will, of course, take time for the legal system to sort through all of the issues involved in this case, but as an Oregon wrongful death attorney I am glad to see it going forward. Too often medical facilities use jargon to try to evade responsibility for their own mistakes or to cover up bad behavior. Saying this does not pre-judge this particular case; rather it is an acknowledgement of the importance of giving a neutral party – specifically, our courts – the chance to weigh all of the evidence and come to a fair and just conclusion. Loved ones who remain behind after a hospital death in circumstances open to question deserve that opportunity, and giving it to them makes the medical and mental health systems fairer and safer for all of us in the long run.

 

 

Salem Statesman-Journal: Family of dead man at OSH threatens to sue

As members of Congress worked through the weekend to agree on a spending bill to keep the federal government operating a fair of amount of media attention focused on an unrelated provision that would weaken the regulations imposed on banks in the wake of the 2008-09 financial crisis. Another, less noticed, amendment to the bill, however, is likely to have a more immediate effect on a much larger number of Americans.

 

According to NJ.com, language slipped into the federal spending bill at the last minute “suspends two rest rules for drivers” of semi-trucks. In other words, it makes it legal for trucking companies to demand more hours behind the wheel from already overstretched truck drivers.

 

Specifically, the website reports, “under federal law, truck drivers can be behind the wheel 11 hours a day, up to a maximum of 60 hours in a seven-day period. But if a trucker takes a 34-hour rest period, that seven-day calendar starts all over and he or she can drive another 60 hours during the next seven days.” The Hill, a magazine that tracks congress, notes that the new rule will “suspend a current requirement that truck drivers take breaks between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. on consecutive nights before they can work again. The measure would also remove a limit on the number of times they can declare the start of a new workday.”

 

In other words: these rule changes will encourage companies to put their drivers on the road for longer hours and to do so during overnight hours when most people feel sleep depravation more acutely and when driving is, by its very nature, more dangerous. The measure’s sponsor, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), claims she is doing commuters a favor by, in effect, shifting truck traffic away from rush hour, but drivers organizations and consumer advocates worry that a little rush-hour convenience will come at the price of more deadly semi-truck accidents. Speaking to The Hill the head of the Amalgamated Transit Union called the new rules “a very dangerous move by Congress that will result in more deaths and gruesome injuries on our nation’s highways.”

 

As a Portland lawyer helping the victims of Oregon and Washington truck crashes I am saddened and appalled to see the trucking industry’s profits being put ahead of both public safety and the welfare of the industry’s key workers – its drivers. It is widely known that drivers are often forced to work dangerously long hours just to make ends meet. With this measure – passed without proper debate or transparency, and attached to an unrelated bill which the President had little choice but to sign – the industry is putting its bottom line ahead of everyone else’s safety.

 

 

NJ.com: Senate clears spending bill that suspends truckers’ rest rules

The Hill: Union slams inclusion of trucker rules in funding bill

 

An OHSU study just published in a medical journal may have uncovered key evidence linking Alzheimer’s disease and traumatic brain injuries and, more importantly, hinted at a way both can be addressed medically according to a recent article in The Oregonian.

 

According to the newspaper, a scientific paper prepared by OHSU and a university in New York “discovered that a traumatic brain injury fouls up the brain’s waste removal system, causing toxic proteins to build up among the cells. A similar phenomenon exists with Alzheimer’s.” The article goes on to note that if TBI and Alzheimer’s do, indeed, stem from similar chemical causes then there is “hope that scientists will find a drug one day to slow the development of Alzheimer’s or neurodegeneration after a brain injury.”

 

According to The Oregonian’s account of the study, the breakthrough lies in the discovery of “the brain’s waste removal system.” It continues: “Scientists had long suspected that the brain, which is separated from the body by a protective blood-brain barrier, had a mechanism for flushing out waste. But they did not have a clue about the process.” Now, they do. Another important feature of the study is its identification of the failure of this waste-flushing process as the core cause of both Alzheimer’s and of many traumatic brain injuries – a link between the two conditions that has long been suspected but has been difficult to prove scientifically.

 

It is important to note that all of this is very preliminary. While the study is exceptionally important it is only a beginning, and any drug to treat both Alzheimer’s and TBI is probably many years away. It does, however, hold out hope over time. More immediately, it confirms yet again the fundamental relationship between traumatic brain injuries and Alzheimer’s – an increasingly clear fact that some in the sports community continue to attempt to explain away.

 

As a Portland TBI attorney my immediate concern is for people and families struggling with the effects of blows to the head, a group that includes athletes, car crash victims and others. Understanding the human chemistry behind traumatic brain injuries is a key first step in, someday, reversing them. Over the last few years we as a society have made enormous progress in TBI protection and TBI awareness, particularly among athletes at all levels, from children to professionals. We have also, however, seen that rules on and off the field do little good if they are not accompanied by changes in the culture of sports, and an awareness that playing through a head injury is never a good thing for an athlete to do. Perhaps this study will speed not only research on Alzheimer’s and TBI medications but also a change in the sideline culture that too often still encourages players to return to the field at times when they should be seeking medical attention.

 

 

The Oregonian: OHSU Researcher uncovers key to Alzheimer’s and traumatic brain injuries

The New York Times reported this week on a decision targeting cyclists that might surprise some: “In the wake of two pedestrian deaths caused by collisions with bicycles, Central Park has lowered the speed limit for cars and bicycles to 20 miles per hour from 25, while reconfiguring intersections with especially heavy foot traffic.” Though the announcement mentioned cars it was mainly focused on bikes since large sections of the park are closed to motor vehicles at any given time (on weekends the entire park is off-limits to cars except for a couple of car-only passages that are largely below ground level and mostly invisible to other park users).

 

The speed limit change is part of “Vision Zero,” a program of safety improvements touted by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio with the goal of eliminating pedestrian deaths citywide. Earlier this year the Times reported that as part of Vision Zero police had stepped up speed limit enforcement in the park, at one point issuing “tickets to 103 bicyclists” in a single weekend, though that level of enforcement is not the norm. The program’s most visible element has been the lowering of the speed limit on most of New York’s streets from 30 mph to 25 mph.

 

In both fatal accidents congestion appears to have been a major issue, according to the Times. One victim was struck by a cyclist who “said he had swerved to avoid other pedestrians.” The other involved “a 17-year old bicyclist dodging a pedicab.” The paper quotes the head of the Central Park Conservancy, the non-profit group that handles day-to-day operations of the park, saying “There’s no question: Slower traffic will mean a safer park.”

 

Regular readers know that as a Portland bicycle accident lawyer I have long been a strong advocate of our city’s cycling community. I’m pointing out these developments from far-off New York, however, to remind Portlanders that the “share the road” slogan carries a message for bike riders too. Awareness of pedestrians and a requirement to follow the rules of the road (speed limits, stopping at traffic lights, respecting crosswalks, etc) apply to bikes as well as cars. Portland is justifiably proud of its bike culture, but cyclists need to acknowledge that safety is a concern for everyone, not just drivers.

 

 

The New York Times: Central Park is Lowering Speed Limit

The New York Times: Deaths Expose Chaos of Central Park Loop