A logging fatality last month in Chapman, in Columbia County, is a reminder of the ever-present dangers of Oregon industrial accidents. Pamplin Media, citing local law enforcement officials, reports that a 54-year-old Scappoose woman died while she “and another person were felling large fir trees.”

Logging has been an important part of our state’s economy for over a century, and it provides a livelihood for thousands of Oregonians. It also, however, remains one of the most dangerous professions in America and fatalities like this are tragic reminders of why the timber industry still needs to be closely regulated.

Pamplin reports that the Columbia County Sheriff’s office “conducted an investigation and ruled the death an accident,” but adds that the incident “is also being investigated by Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health Division as an industrial accident.” This is appropriate because, as I have noted frequently on this blog, “industrial accident” is a term that has a very specific meaning in Oregon law.

Oregon’s industrial accident laws come into play when a company does not take adequate measures to protect its employees or contractors. This can take several forms. The most obvious is failing to provide a safe working environment – but it also includes failing to give employees or contractors the correct training for the jobs they have been assigned and failing to maintain equipment properly. Where contractors are concerned this responsibility extends in two directions – to the primary employer to ensure that these things are provided but also to outsourcing companies providing employees. These must take reasonable measures to ensure that the workers they provide to the primary employer are being adequately looked-after.

As a Portland Oregon industrial accident attorney I am glad to see that the state is investigating this incident. The fact that logging is a dangerous profession makes it especially important that proper safety procedures are followed, and that companies know the rules put in place to protect their employees and contractors are going to be enforced.


South County Spotlight: Woman killed in logging accident in Chapman

Laundry ‘pods’ – essentially pre-packaged detergent that can be thrown in the machine with no need to measure it – have only been around for a few years but have quickly become popular here in Oregon and across the country. As a recent story on MyCentralOregon.com details, however, they also pose a significant risk of Oregon injuries to children – a risk critical enough that the industry is being forced to take note.

According to the website “after tens of thousands of calls from frightened caregivers to poison control centers across the country” the products are being remade. The site reports that according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers there were nearly 12,000 incidents involving laundry pods and children age six or younger last year. This year there were 7,184 such incidents through July – a figure that puts the country on pace to surpass that shocking 2014 number.

As a result Consumer Reports is recommending that people with young children in the house not use liquid laundry pods. When swallowed, the liquid detergent can “sometimes cause children to experience excessive vomiting and difficulty breathing,” MyCentralOregon reports.

In response, the site reports, the industry is adopting new standards designed to protect children. These include: adding flavoring to the outer skin of the packet to make them taste “repulsive.” Making the packets themselves neither transparent nor translucent. Adding new warning statements on both the box and the packets themselves and, perhaps most obviously, making the individual pods harder to break open or bite through.

As a Portland lawyer whose practice focuses on injuries to children I am pleased to see that this popular product is going to become safer, but disappointed to note that according to MyCentralOregon it, once again, took government pressure to get big corporations to do the right thing. The voluntary steps the companies making laundry pods are taking come at the prompting of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which also worked with safety advocates and consumer groups on the issue. The question that has to be asked is why it takes this kind of pressure, and the implicit threat of mandatory government action, to get the manufacturers to do what is so obviously the right thing? The outcome here is good, but the process involved in getting there says a lot about corporate America.


MyCentralOregon.com: Laundry ‘Pods’ Get Makeover After Child Safety Risks

Last week the United States Chamber of Commerce released its annual “Lawsuit Climate Survey” – a report the Chamber has published since 2002. The Survey is worth examining because its conclusions can tell us a lot about both the Chamber as an organization and about big business’ priorities and views of our justice system.

According to the website Public Justice, the Chamber’s “report summarizes the answers of a ‘nationally representative sample of 1,203 in-house general counsel, senior litigators or attorneys, and other senior executives who are knowledgeable about litigation matters at companies with annual revenues over $100 million.’” It is, in short, a survey designed to gauge the views of big business toward our courts, and to rank those courts in terms of their favorability toward large companies and their legal agendas.

According to Public Justice, the Chamber finds that state courts are generally more favorable toward companies than federal courts, and that they have become steadily more business-friendly over the last decade, albeit at a slow pace. “In 2003, Corporate America’s lawyers gave the state courts a score of 50.7; in 2015 they gave them a score of 61.7,” the website reports. In assigning letter-grades to states based on the ‘business-friendly’ record of their courts 52% of all state courts were awarded either an ‘A’ or a ‘B’.

As someone who has been concerned with issues of court access throughout my career I found the entire concept of the Chamber’s ‘survey’ disappointing. The underlying premise of the survey is that the injuries ordinary Americans suffer because of corporate greed or negligence are little more than an annoyance, one that is best dealt with by finding the most ‘business-friendly’ court possible – one that will see things mainly from a perspective of profit and loss rather than right and wrong. That is not what America ought to be about, and it is not the role our courts play in America’s justice system.

As a Portland personal injury attorney I believe strongly that our courts are strongest – and are best for America – when they put commercial interests aside to focus on justice. Our court system at the local, state and federal level is an extraordinary asset for all of Americans. To claim, as the Chamber does, that it works best when it favors the interests of big business regardless of the merits of any particular case, is to misunderstand the role that the justice system plays both in our democracy and in guaranteeing that ordinary Americans can hold the negligent and the criminal to account.


Public Justice: Heaven, Hell and the US Chamber: 13 years of Anti-Judicial Propaganda

No one likes to believe that he or she is a bad driver. So it has to come as a surprise to many of us here in Portland that collectively we are some of the most collision-prone drivers in the country, according to a study by the Allstate Insurance Company recently analyzed by The Oregonian.

According to the newspaper “claims filed with the company found Portlanders are involved in a collision on average every 6.9 years – about 45 percent more than the national average of 10 years.” The paper adds: “That puts Portland squarely in the hall of shame, with a rank of 183 out of the 200 largest US cities.”

To make matters worse: “As recently as 2006, Portland stacked up reasonably… well, ranking at No. 89 on the list of 200 cities.” The newspaper adds that the news is a bit better for the metro area as a whole. Vancouver’s rating, while still below the national average, is significantly better than Portland’s with crashes coming, on average, every 8.8 years. Eugene, where drivers average 10.3 years between collisions, ranked No. 26 in the study.

The Oregonian notes that Allstate’s data do not offer a reason for Portland’s significant and steady decline over the last nine years. As any reader of this blog knows, however, Oregon car accidents are a significant problem throughout the greater Portland area. Over the years I have used this space to track the growing problem of distracted driving as well as the on-going struggles of drivers to share the road with bike riders, even in this most bike-friendly of American cities. The well-documented series of accidents over the last few years involving Tri-Met cannot have helped the city’s overall rating.

As a Portland and Vancouver, Washington auto accident lawyer I do not find these figures as surprising as some readers may. Instead, they are a reminder of the work all of us still have to do to share the road, curb distracted driving and fight DUII.


The Oregonian: Portland drivers among the most collision-prone, report says

An article published recently by The Oregonian on workplace deaths makes sober reading on this Labor Day Monday. It notes that “altogether 41 men and 5 women died from workplace accidents and injuries” in our state last year. “The number includes both Oregon and out-of-state residents who perished within the state’s borders, but excludes at least 28 others who died on the job from suicide, heart attack, stroke or other natural causes unrelated to their work.”

As the newspaper notes, the rate of workplace deaths both in Oregon and in the country as a whole has declined dramatically over the last three decades. Moreover, while Oregon’s workplace death rate of 2.9 per 100,000 workers is lower than the national average of 3.3 per 100,000 it is noticeably higher than the rates in neighboring California (2.4) and Washington State (1.7).

One can speculate why this might be the case. As I have often documented on this blog, Oregon has an unusually large number of people who work in relatively dangerous occupations – such as logging and truck driving. Whatever its cause, the fact that our state’s workplace fatality rate is unusually high by regional standards is a clear cause for concern.

Employment liability law here in Oregon requires the provision of a safe work environment. Employers who ignore this put their employees at risk and leave themselves open to the possibility of an Oregon wrongful death lawsuit should the worst happen. The important thing to understand from a legal perspective is the extent to which this obligation extends to third parties – especially in an era when so much work is outsourced or done on a contract or freelance basis.

As an Oregon and Washington workplace safety attorney who has handled many wrongful death cases I believe it is important for employers to understand that their responsibility for workplace safety does not end when they sub-contract work out to a third party. A contractor has a responsibility to provide a safe work environment, but the ultimate employer has a responsibility to ensure that its contractors actually follow-through on this obligation. As we mark Labor Day let us all remember that today is not just about recognizing the contributions working people make to American life, it is also about remembering the struggles for the right to work safely that have gone on for so many decades and still continue today.


The Oregonian: Oregon workplace deaths decline but still scar families, communities

As many of us prepare to head out of town for the long holiday weekend, the Oregon Marine Board is doing its best to issue essential reminders about the importance of boating safety during what The Oregonian describes as “one of the top three boating weekends of the year.”

As the Marine Board notes, according to The Oregonian, many of its suggestions might easily be characterized s simple common sense. Yet when one considers that “so far this year, 12 people have lost their lives in recreational boating incidents, half of which involve drugs and alcohol” it can be argued that seemingly obvious reminders remain very important. Citing the Marine Board the article notes that Boating Under the Influence of Intoxicants (BUII) is a crime in Oregon and that “violators have been fined up to $7500, can lose boating privileges for up to three years and even serve jail time.”

Many of the other suggestions offered in the article are equally crucial, and too often ignored: know as much as you can about the lake, river or stream where you plan to have fun. “Water levels in the state are very low,” the Marine Board notes, and that means vacationers this long weekend need to be especially careful and look out for rocks and other potential obstacles. It is also important to be aware of safety rules regarding things like life jackets and having a sound-making device (such as a whistle) on board at all times (the Marine Board suggests attaching it to your life jacket) and the need for “all boaters operating boats over 10 horsepower” to have a valid Boater Education Card in their possession.

We all know that Oregon and Washington are great states famous for their extraordinary natural beauty. As a Portland personal injury lawyer who sees far too many cases set in motion by the thoughtless actions of another person I urge everyone to have a fun holiday weekend, and recommend the article (linked below) for its quick but essential reminders of the essentials for keeping Labor Day safe on Oregon’s waterways.


The Oregonian: Safe boating tips for Labor Day offered by Oregon Marine Board

A report released earlier this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlights both the health benefits of cycling and the potential risks. As the report notes, “only about 1% of trips across all modes of transportation” are made by bicycle here in the United States, but the number of deaths associated with cycling remains disproportionately high – and in some places much higher than in others.

The report examines nearly 30,000 cyclist deaths on American roads over a 38 year period – 1975 to 2012 – and leads with some good news: “annual cyclist fatalities declined from a high of 955 in 1975 to 717 in 2012” with the proportion of cyclist deaths among all motor vehicle-involved fatalities dropping from 2.3 to 1.4 percent from 1975 to 2003. In the decade since, however, the figure has risen back to 2.2 percent – meaning that proportionately we are pretty much where we started 40 years ago.

A table accompanying the CDC news release shows that over the period measured by the study fatal Oregon bicycle and car accidents have fallen by 45.9% – a figure that places our state 35th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The greatest improvement was shown by Vermont, where fatalities dropped by more than 82%. Florida (9.7%) and Wyoming (6.7%) had the worst improvement rates.

A middling result for Oregon is both disappointing and a little bit surprising considering all of the effort Portland and the Oregon have invested in making our city and state bike-friendly. The lesson, perhaps, should be that it is important for all of us to redouble our efforts – for lawmakers to invest more in bike infrastructure (particularly bike lanes genuinely separated from motorized traffic), for activists to keep the issue in the public eye and for drivers to pay closer attention to bike riders (no one is eager to be facing an Oregon wrongful death suit as a result of his or her own carelessness behind the wheel).

As a Portland bike community attorney I am always proud of the efforts our city and state have made to make Oregon a bike-friendly state, but that does not mean that any of us can rest on our accomplishments. As the CDC study shows, much work remains to be done. It is disappointing to read that after so much progress from the 1970s through the early years of this century the country as a whole has lost ground where bicycle safety is concerned. Let all of us take that disappointment as a summons to improve bike safety here in Oregon and around the country.


Tampa Tribune: Florida’s bike death rate highest in nation

CDC Report: Bicyclist Deaths Associated with Motor Vehicle Traffic – United States, 1975-2012


The Oregonian this week reported on a guilty plea by a 24-year-old Gresham woman in an Oregon distracted driving case that encapsulates everything that is wrong with this growing problem.

According to the newspaper, the defendant admitted to “taking cellphone video of her child when she crashed into three teens outside their high school in January.” The three 14 and 15-year-old girls “sustained skull, pelvis and knee fractures” according to the paper, as well as “a broken nose, concussion and a lost tooth, and… a torn ACL and a concussion, court documents said.”

“Investigators found a 19-second clip on (the driver’s) phone that showed her hands off the wheel just before she plowed into the teens in the crosswalk, court documents said. She appeared to be holding the phone in her left hand and making gestures with her right hand at her son sitting in the back seat. Phone records show she had also been texting before the crash,” the Oregonian writes.

Beyond the children injured in this crash we also need to consider the danger to which this mother exposed her own son. As a result, there may be further legal consequences as a result of this extremely reckless distracted driving. If one of the girls she hit had died, or if an accident had resulted in the death of her own son, the driver might be subject to an Oregon wrongful death action. Though we can all be relieved that no one died in this car crash, that does not mean that this case is over. It will take months, perhaps even years, for the victims to recover from the serious injuries outlined by the newspaper.

As an Oregon distracted driving attorney I will be interested to see whether any of the victims pursue civil actions against the driver. The criminal charges that she has acknowledged begin the process of paying her debt to society, but they are only the first step toward providing justice for the victims of her reckless behavior.


The Oregonian: Driver admits crashing into teens in Gresham while taking cellphone video

SafeKids Oregon – an organization that regular readers will know I have long supported – has just published a very useful set of back-to-school tips and reminders. They are worth the attention of every Oregon parent.

The group’s website offers a useful guide focused on preventing injuries to children by teaching them how to walk safely to school. The publication, “Teaching Children to Walk Safely as They Grow and Develop” usefully offers varied advice for parents of kids in several different age groups. Key points include teaching younger children “where to cross streets and how to cross safely.” With older kids – especially kids who may have their own cellphones or other attention-absorbing electronic devices – the group notes that “attention-switching and concentration skills are essential.”

At every age the important thing is not only that skills are learned but that children have the opportunity to reinforce them. As the group notes, “children will demonstrate these skills some of the time, so continued practice is needed until they are consistent.”

The website also features a downloadable guide on back-to-school bicycle safety. As a Portland personal injury lawyer focused on preventing injuries to children I am happy to see SafeKids continuing their important public educational work. The material on their website is well-written and easy to understand. Let’s all hope that Oregon parents take the time to learn the lessons SafeKids is offering.


SafeKids Oregon Website

A summer marked by low gas prices has led to a jump in the number of miles Americans are driving. Unfortunately, it also appears to be leading to a significant increase in traffic deaths, according to a recent Yahoo! News article.

“The National Safety Council reported this week that traffic deaths and serious injuries in the US are on a pace to rise for the first time in nearly a decade. If the trend for the first six months of this year continues, the NSC says traffic fatalities in the nation will exceed 40,000 for the first time since 2007 and deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled will also increase,” the news service reports. The key lies in the last part of that sentence – indicating that the number of on-road deaths is not merely a function of the greater number of miles being driven. The article notes that when compared to 2007 the number of mile Americans drive has increased by 3.4% but in the first six months of 2015 alone the number of traffic fatalities has jumped by 14%.

According to the article a number of factors contribute to this – such as higher speed limits – but one might also think that the steadily improving safety gear in modern cars and trucks would, at least to some extent, mitigate that. The big thing that has changed for the worse, according to the study, is the steady rise in distracted driving in general and cellphone use in particular despite laws and educational campaigns here in Oregon and elsewhere designed to curb the practice. From a legal perspective this is especially significant since it, in turn, means that an increasingly large number of drivers are placing themselves at risk of wrongful death charges in the event of an accident.

The article notes that “an NSC study earlier this year indicated cellphone use is a factor in one quarter of all accidents.” As a Portland distracted driving and wrongful death attorney I am disappointed to read this analysis but not particularly surprised. Distracted driving in its many (and growing forms) is one of those problems that everyone says they take seriously but which too few people are willing to do anything about. Too many of us rationalize our own use of distracting technology while behind the wheel even as we criticize the same actions in others. Only when we all acknowledge this problem as the serious issue it is – and treat it as such – will the trends identified by the Safety Council’s study be reversed.


Yahoo! News: Traffic Deaths on the Rise – What’s Really to Blame?