For more than a week we have been learning details of what may be one of the biggest recalls in automotive history. The potential car accidents linked to it are especially scary because the recall is focused on one of the most basic safety features of modern automobiles: the airbags.

 

As the Associated Press reported earlier today, a recall of cars with airbags made by Takata, a Japan-based supplier of parts to numerous car companies, is now thought to effect “more than 12 million cars… (including) dozens of models made by BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Mazda, Honda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru and Toyota dating to the 2001 model year.” As a result of the recall order AP reports that AutoNation, the nationwide chain that is the country’s largest car dealer, says it will stop selling the affected makes and models. The company’s CEO also went on record criticizing the car manufacturers “confusing and incoherent” handling of the situation.

 

As the news agency reports, the Takata-made airbags “can inflate with too much force, blowing apart metal canisters and sending shards flying at drivers and passengers. Safety advocates say that four people have died due to the problem.” The article goes on to note that “government investigators believe that prolonged exposure to moisture in the air makes the air bag inflator chemicals burn too fast, creating too much pressure.”

 

Much of the confusion surrounding the recall stems from the lack of coordination among the car manufacturers themselves. “Some automakers have limited recalls to a few Southern states with high humidity, while others have expanded them” AP reports. The story, carried in today’s Oregonian, quotes the AutoNation CEO calling for the government to get more involved, specifically to establish consistent recall standards and to force the manufacturers to cooperate with Takata and with each other. That seems like a pretty good dose of common sense, but, according to AP “the agency says it doesn’t have data to support that.”

 

As an Oregon car accident victims lawyer I will be watching future developments in this case closely. Like the GM recalls earlier this year where it often seemed that one piece of bad news for consumers led right to another, one senses that anything this widespread – stretched over ten car companies and nearly 15 years of car-making – is far from over, and that new developments are still to come.

 

 

AP via The Oregonian: Airbag recall list: Automation halts sales of dozens of models of used cars

The death earlier this month of a six-month old Hillsboro girl whose father forgot that she was in the back of his car when he went inside his office for work is a sad reminder of a problem that is far more extensive than most people think. As The Oregonian put it last weekend, “though the tragedy that played out in Hillsboro… is incomprehensible to many, research shows it’s a scenario that has played out hundreds of times nationwide since the late 1990s as parents and caregivers grapple with a growing litany of distractions.”

 

This Oregon child death is also a reminder, as SafeKids tells parents every year (see link below) around this time, that even as the weather turns cooler a closed car can still become very, very hot as it sits in the sun for hour after hour.

 

“In the United States, at least 635 children have died of hyperthermia in vehicles since 1998. In 51 percent of those cases, the parent of caregiver said they had forgotten the child was inside,” the paper reports, citing data from an expert on the subject at San Jose State University in California.

 

Deaths like these are especially tragic because they are so easily preventable. For busy adults something as simple as leaving one’s purse or briefcase in the back seat rather than on the passenger seat behind the driver can provide the nudge necessary to remember a sleeping child in the back seat. As a Portland attorney specializing in injuries to children tips like this, and the many others offered on the SafeKids website are one of the most important reasons why I support the organization.

 

All of us lead hectic lives these days, but we can never allow that to become an excuse for forgetting our most important responsibilities as parents and as citizens.

 

 

 

The Oregonian: Intel baby death: In dozens of similar U.S. cases each year, caregivers often cite distractions, change in routine for forgetting child in car

SafeKids.org: Information page on young children and heatstroke

 

A recent news item from Maine offers an important autumn reminder about safety and Oregon injuries to children. According to the Portland (Maine) Press-Herald, a teenager died and 22 other people were injured when “a mechanical malfunction caused the Jeep towing a trailer of passengers on a haunted hayride… to careen down a steep hill and crash.” The report cites information from “state officials.”

 

The newspaper reports that local and state police are still working to determine the exact cause of the accident, but the overall nature of the incident is something that merits our attention here in Oregon. Fall and the early part of winter are times when hayrides, Christmas tree cutting parties and similar activities take many people outdoors in unusual ways. No one would suggest banning this kind of family Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas fun, but this tragic incident in Maine is a reminder that safety also needs to be considered when planning these kind of events.

 

The fact that events like these often involve children only makes the need for safety more critical. Whether it is a Halloween Hayride or a Christmas tree cutting party (that might involve children who have never before been close to power tools), it is critical that anyone organizing events like these take appropriate precautions to ensure the safety of everyone involved.

 

As a Portland attorney specializing in cases involving injuries to children I am especially concerned when I see reports like this one from Maine. Several days after the incident in that state half a dozen of the injured young people remained hospitalized, according to the newspaper report. Meanwhile the family of a teenage girl who went out for a fun evening with friends are mourning their daughter’s death. All of us should be reminded after this incident of the importance of safety procedures even at events that seem simple and straightforward.

 

 

Portland Press-Herald: Mechanical malfunction cited in hayride accident that killed one, injured 22

Two weeks ago I blogged about questions surrounding guardrails installed on highways here in Oregon and throughout the country. As I noted then, Oregon has opted not to join several other states in suspending use of “ET-Plus” guardrails made by a Texas company and used nationwide, despite reports, as the New York Times put it this week, of crashes “in essence, turning the rails into spears when cars hit them and injuring people instead of cushioning the blow.”

 

“’The device is not performing as it is designed and intended,’ a Missouri transportation official wrote of the problematic railheads in an internal communication,” according to a report this week in the Times.

 

As I reported last month, all this is especially worrisome when we consider Oregon car crashes, not just because the ODOT has opted not to act but because it says it is not really able to act, since it has no reliable records on where the guardrails in question are actually installed. The design change that led to the charges concerning the ET-Plus rails took place in 2005. As a result, the design is now widely in use throughout Oregon and the rest of the United States.

 

According to the Times, Missouri banned the use of the rails last month, joining Nevada and Massachusetts. The newspaper also reports that several years ago officials at the Federal Highway Administration “drafted a letter asking the manufacturer to conduct additional testing, but the letter was never sent.” It notes that the official who raised concerns about the rails dropped his objections to them after meeting with representatives of the manufacturer. “The federal agency continues to allow states to use federal funds to purchase and install the rail heads. Concern over the guardrails are at the center of a federal lawsuit expected to go to trail” shortly in Texas, the paper notes.

 

As a Portland auto accident lawyer with a special focus on wrongful death cases I will be watching both the Texas trial and any continued developments in this case closely. Like the situation we have seen unfold with General Motors over the last year it raises serious questions about federal and state regulators and how close they are to the companies they are supposed to oversee.

 

 

New York Times: Highway Guardrail May be Deadly, States Say

 

The Oregonian reports this morning on an Oregon pedestrian death involving a MAX train. The Oregon pedestrian accident took the life of a 71-year-old Portland man Friday night. “Transit police are continuing to investigate the incident,” according to the newspaper.

 

The man reportedly died when hit by a MAX train early “Friday night near East Burnside and 160th Avenue.” The newspaper quotes a Tri-Met spokesperson saying that “the Blue Line train was eastbound and that trains usually move about 35 mph in the area where the incident took place. She said the accident took place near a pedestrian crossing specifically designed to help make sure that people getting ready to cross the tracks have a good view of oncoming trains.”

 

The Oregonian quotes family members saying that the victim had lived in the neighborhood since 2001 and was in good health. He was taking his regular evening walk at the time of the accident, according to family members who spoke to the newspaper.

 

The exact circumstances of this accident need to be investigated thoroughly and carefully. It is possible that the family could find they have cause for an Oregon wrongful death claim depending on the results of the investigation. From a legal perspective, it is especially important to examine whether the train’s operators were following proper procedures as well as the functionality of the switching and signaling equipment along the Blue Line.

 

As a Portland wrongful death attorney with extensive experience in pedestrian deaths and accidents I will be watching this case closely to see what the investigation eventually concludes and, perhaps equally important, what larger questions the results of the investigation may eventually raise. Safety issues involving Tri-Met trains and busses have emerged far too frequently in the last few years. Though the city and Tri-Met have made some progress in addressing pedestrian safety concerns the bottom line remains that Greater Portland needs and deserves a transit system in which fatalities and serious injuries are never an issue.

 

 

The Oregonian: 71-year-old Portland man on nightly walk when he was struck, killed by MAX train, sister says

A report in yesterday’s Oregonian details problems with a common type of guardrail used throughout the country, along with the disappointing revelation that Oregon will not follow the lead of at least three other states and move to replace the rails. This, despite evidence linking them to “grisly deaths and severed limbs” in car crashes around the country.

 

The guardrails in question are “fitted with so-called ‘ET-Plus’ energy absorbing impact plates on the end… Guardrails with end plates are supposed to lessen the severity of a crash, by absorbing the initial energy while shifting the vehicle to ride down the rail without deflecting back into traffic.” The newspaper reports, however, that a study by The Safety Institute found that a design introduced by the rails’ manufacturer in 2005 and now in widespread use “was 1.36 times more likely to produce a severe injury and 2.86 times more likely to produce a fatality” than the original design.

 

The article goes on to note that lawsuits in five states “have blamed ET-Plus guardrails for at least four deaths and nine severe injuries.” As a result, Nevada, Missouri and Massachusetts have “suspended use of the barriers.” According to the newspaper, however, Oregon’s DOT plans to keep using them partly because no problems have been reported in our state but also because “even if ODOT wanted to replace its ET-Plus barriers on Oregon highways, the agency wouldn’t know where to start. The agency has apparently lost track of where they’re installed.”

 

Reading that last sentence it is difficult to decide which part is more troubling. As a Portland car crash attorney I would hope that ODOT was sufficiently aware of safety situations in other states that it did not have to wait for similar problems to arise here in Oregon before acting. It is perhaps more troubling, however, to learn that replacing the rails may not be possible because appropriate records are not being maintained by the ODOT itself.

 

This story is only a day old, but it seems sure to develop further in the weeks and months to come. I will be keeping a close eye on this, and related developments to see whether media exposure succeeds in moving the ODOT toward both a more forward-looking policy and better record-keeping systems.

 

 

The Oregonian: Oregon DOT: No plans to remove ‘sharp spear’ guardrails tied to deaths, severed limbs

An article published in Friday’s New York Times brings the issue of General Motors and its massive recalls sharply back into focus. It tells the story of a 27-year-old Virginia woman who died in a car crash only days after receiving a recall notice on her 2006 Saturn. That notice concerned the ignition switch issue that has received so much media attention this year. It is also noteworthy that it was the third issue for which her car had been recalled. It is useful to be reminded that the GM recall story is far from over – but several details buried deep inside the article are points of special concern.

 

The victim in the crash highlighted by the article died earlier this year. That fact is significant, because even though the defects in GM cars stretch back many years the fatal crashes associated with them have been seen by most people as something that happened several years ago and is only now traceable to the company’s negligence. The article notes that as of this week the mediator administering a fund to compensate victims “had determined that 21 deaths were eligible, raising GM’s longstanding death tally of 13 by more than 50 percent.”

 

Equally disturbing (though, admittedly, not a new development for anyone who has followed this issue closely) is the paper’s reporting that “during months of outcry over GM’s handling of the (ignition) switch issue, as investigations and lawsuits mounted, the company has fought any effort to get the recalled cars off the road until they are repaired… To date, hundreds of thousands of cars remain on the road, and the automaker continues to maintain that they are safe.”

 

One might have thought the company would have concluded by now that the potential damage to its bottom line is far outweighed by the risk to public safety and the ongoing damage to its reputation that this issue is causing. The fact that the compensation fund administrator found a 2014 death to be linked to the ignition switch defect is proof of the on-going seriousness of the situation.

 

As a Portland car crash victims attorney I am glad to see that the compensation fund is moving forward, offering a sense of justice and closure for those whose lives have been irreparably harmed by GM’s conduct. One must ask, however, why it has taken so long for even this small measure of justice to be served. Taking the longer view, the company’s behavior is a powerful reminder of why we continue to need our courts and the justice system more broadly to help ensure that the rich and powerful cannot simply avoid responsibility for actions that place us all at risk.

 

 

New York Times: After a G.M. Recall, a Fiery Crash and a Payout

A mysterious outbreak of E. coli here in Oregon has left one child dead and resulted in injuries to two others, leaving parents and public health officials alike struggling for answers here in the Pacific Northwest.

 

As The Oregonian reported last week “all three children – ages 3, 4 and 5 – were at birthday parties in Lebanon on August 23. All three were exposed to recreational water and ate watermelon. All three suffered kidney failure.” Though it is worth adding that the children were not all attending the same birthday party (two were at one party and the third child was at a different party) the similarity of the cases does raise significant questions, particularly whether something in the food they ate may have been tainted.

 

As the newspaper notes, in the wake of these injuries to several children state health officials in both Washington and Oregon have been interviewing the parents as well as other adults in an effort to track and isolate the cause of the outbreak. “Without a solid culprit, such as an undercooked hamburger, epidemiologists can link cases with DNA tests on the bacteria,” the paper notes.

 

Even as the investigation continues there are some critical lessons that the rest of us can draw. The E. coli outbreak is a reminder of how important public health services are for all of us, and of the important role government plays in ensuring that the food we eat is safe and safely prepared. That includes not only how food is cooked, but how it is processed, transported and stored. From a public health perspective, the most critical stages for many of the things we eat occur long before they reach our plates, or even the shelves of the stores where we shop.

 

As an Oregon and Washington lawyer who focuses on cases involving injuries to children I’ll be watching developments in this case closely in the weeks and months to come. Officials are working to figure out exactly what tainted items these children consumed, and where those items came from – by which I mean their ultimate sources, not just the stores or restaurants that sold them to the parents. Their conclusions may open up a broader chain of responsibility, highlighting the importance of proper safety and sanitary procedures along our entire food chain.

 

KCPQ Seattle: Third child sick with E. Coli, parents desperate for answers

The Oregonian: Oregon mothers rack brains on E. coli infection that killed girl, 4, sickened 2 kids

 

 

The death this week of a 33-year-old Mill City man is being investigated by the sheriff’s office in Linn County but, based on a report in the Salem Statesman-Journal, there are strong indications that it fits the definition of an Oregon industrial accident.

 

As I wrote in this space just a few days ago, the lumber industry has one of the highest rates of workplace fatalities here in a state where workplace deaths rose last year, even as they declined nationwide. According to the Statesman-Journal this particular accident took place on Wednesday in Mill City. The victim is reported to have been at work in a lumber mill “repairing a wood press when it activated and crushed him.”

 

“Police are investigating the situation along with the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA,” according to the newspaper. One of the things they will surely look at is whether this fatality should be classified as an Oregon industrial accident. Oregon law requires that machinery, particularly potentially dangerous machinery, be serviced properly and that workers operating and maintaining it have proper training. It is disturbing to read that a wood press activated at a point when it should not have been connected to a power supply at all. In lumber mills and other potentially dangerous workplaces proper “Lockout/Tagout” procedures, like those outlined by the US Department of Labor (see this link) are essential. Rules like this do not represent onerous government regulation but, rather, are essential safety measures designed to protect workers from employers who might be tempted to cut corners to put a few extra dollars onto the bottom line.

 

Among the questions that need to be examined will be whether the workers preparing the machinery for repair were not properly trained in the procedures for making the machine safe prior to servicing that could be a cause for legal action. Similarly, if the machine activated due to a fault that can be traced to a failure to maintain it properly that, too, would fit the definition of an industrial accident. Finally, if any party is at fault due to negligence in performing any of these duties, they may also be subject to Oregon wrongful death claims, that includes third parties, such as independent contractors, who may be assigned to set-up and/or maintain machinery.

 

As an Oregon industrial accident attorney I see cases like this all too frequently. As the police and OSHA conduct their investigations, let us all hope that the cause of this tragedy can be quickly pinpointed and appropriate action taken to ensure that nothing similar happens again.

 

The Statesman-Journal: Mill City man crushed to death in lumber mill

 

A report released by the Bureau of Labor statistics earlier this month draws attention to a disquieting trend: though the number of workplace deaths fell nationally last year, here in Oregon the numbers went up.

 

According to reporting by The Oregonian, the BLS report found that “the number of Oregon work-related deaths increased 12 percent, from 43 to 49, between 2012 and 2013. Yet the number of workplace fatalities decreased by 5 percent nationwide to 4,400.” As someone who has written extensively about Oregon industrial accidents and the importance of workplace safety I find both the numbers and the overall trend disturbing.

 

The largest single source of Oregon workplace deaths was crashes involving cars, trucks and other vehicles. “Safety regulators tied a majority of the Oregon deaths to traffic- or equipment-related accidents. The report says 19 workers died as a result of vehicular crashes and 12 people were killed by machines or other objects.” The report’s accounting system also takes note of police and firefighters killed or injured in the line of duty. The relatively large number of vehicle crashes (accounting for more than one-third of all workplace deaths) is worth special attention. Under Oregon law there may be a case for a wrongful death action by surviving loved ones if a third party is found to be at fault in the incident.

 

According to the newspaper, most of the Oregon workplace deaths took place in the “natural resources, construction, transportation and administrative and support services” sectors (the last category is described by the paper as “an umbrella industry that includes trash collectors and cleaning companies”). Natural resources, which includes the logging industry, along with transport and construction are all areas that involve danger and where workplace safety is critical. I have written about the potential dangers of the logging industry on many occasions and also of the hazards that poorly-maintained semi-trucks and over-worked truck drivers pose to everyone who uses our roads and highways. Oregon law regarding industrial accidents requires employers to conduct proper maintenance on all workplace equipment (including vehicles) or to ensure that vendors carry out the proper maintenance and that the people operating the equipment receive appropriate training. With fatality numbers going up, one can question whether these laws are being universally observed.

 

As an Oregon industrial accidents lawyer I am saddened to see that the number of workplace deaths in our state rose last year after declining from 2011 to 2012. The BLS report is a reminder of how important it is for all of us to remain alert to possible workplace dangers and to hold employers accountable when they fail to do the right thing and protect their employees.

 

The Oregonian: More Oregonians died on the job last year, new report shows