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Matthew D. Kaplan

The unfolding scandal surrounding the Sunnyside Sprouts daycare center in Southeast Portland should be a reminder for all of us of the importance of government regulation and action when it comes to helping keep children safe. But it is also the story of a communications system that had broken down badly – something our regulatory and licensing agencies cannot always fix but where the courts can sometimes help.

The childcare center was shut down last month after regulators found its owner to be operating without a license, according to radio station KLCC. In addition, “Oregon childcare regulators believed children at Sunnyside Sprouts daycare were being mistreated,” according to the station’s report. What is shocking is the radio station’s finding that parents were never officially told why the daycare was closed, or the fact that it’s owner had been operating in Oregon for years without a license. As a result, “some of the families continued to place their children” in the care of Sunnyside Sprouts’ owner even as the government was in the process of taking her to court.

In the wake of these revelations, KLCC reports, Governor Kate Brown has “called on the state’s Early Learning Division to create a more robust vetting process for childcare providers coming from a different state” (Sunnyside Sprouts’ owner had moved to Oregon after having her child care license suspended in California). The governor also wants regulators “to alert parents if a facility’s legal status ever changes.”

A recent blog post on the BikePortland website seeks to draw attention to Portland’s NW Broadway and Hoyt intersection, which the author calls “dangerous by design.” It is among the sites that BikePortland has long sought to highlight as the city continues its efforts to make one of America’s most bike-friendly cities even better.

BikePortland’s editor/publisher notes that he has been writing about the dangers posed by NW Broadway and Hoyt for several years. As May came to a close he got an email documenting a very scary incident in which a car making a right turn “tried to thread the needle between two groups of cyclists by speeding up a bit.” This forced one rider to slam on his brakes and crash into a truck (the cyclist was seen limping at the site but apparently did not require medical assistance).

As BikePortland notes “this is a very heavily-used bike route.” That would seem to make it the sort of place where drivers are particularly aware that bikes are part of their surroundings, but because of the way the intersection is laid out the intersection continues to be an especially dangerous spot. The post reminds readers that a car turning across a bike lane cannot simply put on its blinker and go. People in the bike lane have the right of way, and for a moving car to cut through groups of cyclists moving across its path is no more legal or acceptable than a driver “threading the needle” between pedestrians at a crosswalk. ORS 811.065 and ORS 811.050 specifically lay out the responsibilities of drivers when sharing the road with cyclists. The latter specifically concerns how drivers are supposed to act vis-à-vis bike lanes.

A lengthy article published last week in the St. Helens Chronicle details a disturbing case of alleged prison abuse. According to the newspaper “a former inmate has requested a jury trial, seeking $500,000 for damages after an encounter with a K-9 while imprisoned in Columbia County jail this year.”

The case was filed in federal court earlier this month. Like other cases of prison abuse that I have written about in recent months it is a civil action built around 42 United States Code 1983. This statute requires state and local governments to enforce the rights that inmates and others are guaranteed under the eighth amendment to the US Constitution. 42 USC 1983 says that all people are entitled to “any rights privileges or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws” and that state and local governments must acknowledge and enforce these rights. As The Chronicle notes, this interpretation of the statute was upheld in a 1978 US Supreme Court Ruling (Monell v New York City Department of Social Services 436 US 658).

The St Helens case alleges that deputies at the county jail ordered a police dog to attack a prisoner in his cell, claiming falsely that the inmate was violent and uncooperative when, in fact, he had merely insulted a guard. According to the suit “the county and its officials… failed to provide adequate training to sheriff’s deputies with respect to constitutional limits on the use of force, detention, mental health, and inmate cell extractions and failed to adequately discipline or retrain officers involved in misconduct,” the newspaper reports. It also alleges that the deputies conspired to cover up their actions by filing false reports.

Earlier this week I wrote about the recent Portland Streetcar derailment that injured one person, damaged several cars and snarled traffic for hours. Late last night The Oregonian published comments by Portland Streetcar’s executive director that implied that no one is at fault for the accident. “It wasn’t an operator error, and it wasn’t a speeding issue,” the newspaper quoted the official saying, adding that the current focus of the investigation is on a “potential mechanical issue.”

The problem with this line of reasoning, as a matter of both law and common sense, is that mechanical issues also have causes. The officials who run the streetcar cannot evade accountability for their actions (or lack of action) by simply citing ‘mechanical issues.’

As Oregon Revised Statutes Section 30.265 clearly states: “every public body is subject to civil action for its torts, and those of its officers, employees and agents acting within the scope of their employment or duties.” In plain English this means that one can’t simply dismiss a serious accident like this as a mechanical failure. People build, purchase, operate and maintain mechanical equipment, and are, in turn, responsible when it fails.

A crash last week that, according to local TV station KOIN involved “the Portland streetcar and multiple vehicles which sent one person to the hospital… and shut down part of SE Grand Avenue” is bringing Oregon’s municipal liability laws into focus for many people.

KOIN reports that “three vehicles were wrecked in the crash, which also caused the streetcar to get knocked off its tracks. According to witnesses, a truck collided with the streetcar and then was pushed along by it – hitting two other cars, one of which was parked… Guardrails, streetlight and electric poles were also taken out by the streetcar. One of the poles involved cut power to A and B loops on the eastside.” The Oregonian reports that “the person injured was inside a car when it was hit by the streetcar. That person is expected to survive. There were 11 people on the streetcar, including the operator, and none was seriously injured.” One additional person from one of the autos went “to the hospital on their own accord.”

The first thing to be said about this is that we should all be happy that so few people were injured, relatively speaking. This is clearly one of those situations where things could have been much, much worse. That, however, does not change the fact that serious questions need to be asked – and potentially examined in court – about how the city got into this situation in the first place.

With Memorial Day and the long summer season approaching this is a good time to revisit some difficult truths about drinking, driving and social responsibility.

The Klamath Falls Herald & News published a useful article recently focused on parental responsibility and teen drinking. The story focused on a demonstration staged at an area high school in the run-up to prom. The simulation portrayed “the devastating immediate effects of a serious accident” involving teenagers and alcohol. Though the focus of the demonstration was on teen responsibility, as the paper noted, a key point went unaddressed, specifically “the responsibility assumed by adults who furnish alcohol to underage drinkers.”

As the paper explains: “Any adults who think they are being good parents by hosting parties with underage drinkers would do well to look at the Oregon laws about such things.” Oregon law allows a parent or guardian to serve alcohol to their own underage child in their own home when they are personally present. That does not extend to hosting party where anyone else’s children will be drinking. The article quotes a warning to parents from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission: “If you allow your property and/or home to be used for a party where minors, other than your minor child(ren), consume alcohol in your presence, you may have to forfeit property and may be issued a criminal citation… The power to provide alcohol to a minor can’t be transferred from a parent to other adults.”

It is getting warmer, which is always a good thing, but the spring also brings dangers – sometimes dangers that may not seem immediately obvious.

I’d like to focus today on water safety, a topic that regular readers will know I have addressed in the past. As a recent article in The Oregonian outlines the temptation to cool off in Oregon and Washington’s rivers at this time of year needs to be accompanied by some simple but important safety precautions.

“Entering cold water can cause swimmers to gasp, inhale water and then go under,” the paper notes. “Currents can keep swimmers from reaching safety.” The key thing to remember is that even on a hot day the water can be very cold. This is something most of us intuitively understand when it comes to the ocean, but which can be easy to forget where rivers are concerned. It is especially important since rivers, with their fast-flowing currents and other obstacles such as rocks and trees, are often even more dangerous than swimming at the beach.

Over the last five years I have written about the danger posed by Takata airbags on more than half a dozen occasions. Recently, an article in the Washington Post brought the issue back into focus.

As the newspaper chillingly puts it: “ten years after the biggest safety recall in US history began, Honda says there are more than 60,000 vehicles on the nation’s roads equipped with what experts have called a ‘ticking time bomb’”: defective air bags. As the Post explains, the bags were installed in “37 million vehicles built by 19 automakers. At least 22 people worldwide have been killed and hundreds more permanently disfigured when the airbags that deployed to protect them instead exploded and sprayed shrapnel.”

The company that manufactured these deadly air bags, a Japanese firm called Takata, was once one of the largest car parts suppliers on earth. In the years since the scandal emerged it has acknowledged that it knew about the dangers of its air bags for years before publicly acknowledging them and faced a $1 billion fine from the US Justice Department. Three of the company’s top executives face federal indictments here in the US but have not been extradited from their native Japan.

The speed limit reductions in most of Portland’s residential areas that were approved by the city council early this year have taken effect across Portland. As I wrote at the time of the council vote this initiative – covering almost 70 percent of Portland’s streets and roads – is a key element of Vision Zero, the city’s effort to eliminate pedestrian traffic deaths.

A more recent move by the council, however, is a reminder of two key points. First, that Vision Zero is a flexible, constantly evolving initiative and not just a single set of plans and actions, and, second, that it is designed to apply city-wide: in commercial as well as residential areas.

Until now Vision Zero’s speed limit changes have focused on residential areas. Earlier this month, however, “Portland approved an emergency plan… to reduce by 5 mph the speed limit (from 35mph to 30mph) on a more than 50 block stretch of Stark Street in Southeast Portland,” according to The Oregonian. Noting that this particular stretch of Stark “has long been an area of concern,” the newspaper adds that “two of the city’s 10 traffic fatalities this year happened between 109thand 162ndAvenues on Stark.”

Last month I wrote about private prison companies in a blog focused on prisoner medical care and civil rights issues. I want to return to that issue today, but shift the focus away from the privatization of public services and toward the services themselves.

A few days ago Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that “a Jefferson County grand jury has indicted three of the county sheriff’s deputies in connection with an inmate’s death last April.” The broadcaster reports that the deputies were charged with criminally negligent homicide, a felony. The broadcaster reports that “the attorney for at least one of the deputies said her client plans to plead not guilty.”

The charges stem from the death of a man who had been held in the county jail for two days following his arrest on drug charges in late April 2017. The victim reported to guards that he was not feeling well on the morning of April 26. “He was seen by nurses employed by the sheriff’s office,” but it was only later that same morning when he again reported being ill that an ambulance was called. By then, it was too late. The inmate died a short time later, according to OPB.

50 SW Pine St 3rd Floor Portland, OR 97204 Telephone: (503) 226-3844 Fax: (503) 943-6670 Email: matthew@mdkaplanlaw.com
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