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

The Oregonian is reporting that an arrest has been made in one of the most egregious Oregon distracted driving cases in recent memory. According to the newspaper, a 23-year-old Gresham woman is now under arrest after “taking video on her cellphone when she drove into three teens in a crosswalk outside their high school.”

Further investigation showed that at the time of the Oregon pedestrian accident the driver did not have her hands on the steering wheel. Perhaps even more shocking is the revelation that the driver appears to have been taking a video of her own son at the time of the accident. “A 19-second-long clip… shows the 23-year-old with the device in her left hand and making gestures at her son in the back seat with her right hand just before she hits three girls outside Centennial High School on Jan. 15,” the paper reports.

According to the newspaper “the three injured girls, between 14 and 15-years-old, survived the crash” though all three were seriously injured. The accident took place in January and The Oregonian reports that the driver remained at the scene of the accident and cooperated with law enforcement. She has now been charged with “third-degree assault, reckless endangering and reckless driving.” Witnesses reported the driver was traveling at nearly 40 miles per hour when she struck the three pedestrians.

As an Oregon distracted driving lawyer this case is a powerful reminder that distracted driving is not just a teenage issue and that adults, too, can sometimes make shockingly poor decisions while behind the wheel. It is difficult to imagine what might have been going through the mind of a parent who would endanger their own child by turning around to make a video while also driving a fast-moving car. The criminal justice system is now going to deal with this particular driver, but the entire incident is a reminder of how important safety issues are whenever anyone – of any age – is driving a car. Moreover, the criminal case against the driver does not change the fact that the girls and their families retain the ability to seek damages in civil court to recover money for their medical bills and associated expenses as well as pain and suffering. The distinction is important because criminal cases deal with accountability to society while civil cases, by their nature, are about justice for victims.

 

The Oregonian: Gresham driver accused of making cellphone video before crashing into teens had hands off steering wheel

The Oregonian: Gresham driver crashed into teens while recording cellphone video, police say

Last week Portland suffered yet another tragic and preventable crosswalk death. The fact that this fatal Oregon traffic accident also involved a truck making a turn merely highlights the ongoing issue of pedestrian safety that I have written about so frequently.

 

According to The Oregonian a 61-year-old man from Northeast Portland “was using his three-wheeled wheelchair scooter in a marked crosswalk when a turning truck struck him.” It quotes a Portland police spokesman confirming that as the victim “crossed with the ‘walk’ signal, an eastbound truck turned south onto Naito Parkway and struck him.” The newspaper reports that the man died the following day at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center. The truck driver is reported to be cooperating with police.

 

There are a number of potential legal issues raised by this Oregon traffic accident. As is often the case in a death under these circumstances the possibility of a wrongful death action exists. It is worth considering whether there is a product liability issue involved in this incident. Considering the sheer number of automotive product recalls over the last year it is worth exploring whether the truck involved in this fatal Oregon traffic accident may have been – or ought to be – subject to a recall.

 

As an Oregon truck accident attorney who also practices in Washington I hope that a careful and thorough investigation of this fatal accident will be conducted. Oregon in general and the Portland area in particular have seen far too many crosswalk accidents over the last few years. I have written frequently about the need for better markings and a greater public investment in safety, but all of this ultimately depends on drivers – especially drivers of large trucks – being appropriately cautious and aware whenever they approach a crosswalk.

 

The Oregonian: Man dies after truck strikes him in NW Naito Parkway crosswalk

An article this week in USA Today outlines a growing movement around the country toward integrating bicycles into traffic patterns in a substantive way. The idea, the newspaper says, is to reduce bicycle accidents and create” safer roadways for non-motorists.”

“More and more cities across the nation, including 712 jurisdictions across 32 states, have been moving toward implementing “Complete Streets” policies, according to the National Complete Streets Coalition. These policies are meant to make streets more accessible for commuters of all types, as opposed to simply motorists,” the newspaper reports.

In practice, what this often means is the construction of protected bike lanes. USA Today notes that in Seattle alone almost 1000 on-street parking spaces have been eliminated in favor of bike lanes over the last four years. A bike lane separated from traffic by a median is obviously far, far safer than simply painting a bike lane line down the side of an existing road. As with most public policy decisions, however, this one involves trade-offs, and as USA Today writes the move toward better, safer bike lanes often leads “to a heated fight for curb space, as parking spaces are taken out in favor of bike lanes, bus lanes, pedestrian walkways, and even parklets, small parks built by extending existing sidewalks into neighboring parking spaces.”

It is not surprising that support for bike lanes drops among motorists when the construction of those lanes involves reducing or ending on-street parking in some areas. As a Portland bike accident attorney, however, I hope that drivers around the country can take a big-picture approach to this issue. We all agree that on-street parking is hugely convenient. That, however, needs to be balanced against the health and safety benefits that come with protected bike lanes (not to mention the fact that the better bike infrastructure is the more likely it is to take cars off the street – thereby improving the driving experience for people who remain in their cars).

The USA Today article documents objections to the extension of bike lanes in famously bike-friendly cities like Seattle, St. Paul and Princeton. This is proof, perhaps, that even in places known for an environmentally friendly and health-conscious approach to commuting it is possible for drivers to feel they have been pushed too far. That, however, would be the wrong way to look at the issue. To achieve significant healthy outcomes our cities will have to make many moves to accommodate vehicles other than cars. It is not too much to say it will often involve rethinking a century or more of urban planning. Implementing these changes will be a sign that we as a society are beginning to think long-term. That, in turn, will ultimately be good for everyone using our streets and sidewalks – motorists, pedestrians and cyclists alike.

 

USA Today: On-street parking losing ground to safety measures

Governor Kate Brown is considering whether or not to sign a bill improving protections for car drivers. The choice she faces is one between protecting consumers involved in Oregon car accidents and protecting the insurance industry.

The legislation, formally known as Senate Bill 411, is designed “to ensure that Oregon auto insurance consumers can actually use liability coverage they pay for every month,” according to a news release by the Oregon House Democratic Caucus. It closes a loophole in current law under which properly-insured drivers who suffer injuries at the hands of an underinsured motorist often find that “the at-fault driver’s insurance (a minimum of $25,000) is subtracted from the victim’s Underinsured Motorist Coverage – for a half-million Oregonians this means they’ll never be able to access the full coverage they’re paying for.”

According to the Oregon House majority’s news release, “SB 411 will allow injured motorists to add their uninsured motorist coverage on top of the at-fault driver’s liability coverage so injured consumers get the coverage they paid for. The bill also ensures that Personal Injury Protection policyholders are able to recover their total damages first, before the insurance company.”

This reform is long overdue and I hope Governor Brown will soon sign it into law. As an Oregon auto accident victims’ attorney I have often been shocked by the ease with which insurance companies can avoid paying the benefits that hard-working Oregonians believe they have paid for, sometimes over a period of many years. Policies ought to offer the coverage that a reasonable layperson believes he or she has paid for, and anything that makes it harder for companies to use technicalities to deny payment to deserving accident victims is to be welcomed.

 

Oregon House Democratic Caucus News Release on SB411