"I got into an accident and was nervous about finding a personal injury attorney after hearing so many awful stories, but from the start, I felt confident with my choice in Kaplan Law, LLC." Read More - Ben
"Matt and Gillian took great care of me during a stressful time of my life. Very caring and knowledgeable group. I would definitely recommend Kaplan Law!" Read More - Kayleigh
"Incredible service and results! Matthew Kaplan and his paralegal Gillian did an amazing job for me. Not only did they resolve my case beyond my satisfaction, they also were very caring and supportive thru my recovery. I couldn't ask for a better attorney." Read More - Jamal
Matthew D. Kaplan

An incident last summer at a Corvallis athletic club reads like every parent’s nightmare in condensed form. According to a recent article in The Oregonian “the parents of a 5-year-old boy who drowned in a swimming pool at a Corvallis summer camp have filed a $56.6 million lawsuit, claiming the camp didn’t have a lifeguard on duty who might have seen the boy struggling for life over four minutes last summer.”

According to the newspaper the boy went down a waterslide unattended. He was not wearing a life vest, despite his parents having explicitly told the camp that their son would need a flotation device whenever in the water because he cannot swim. The paper reports that he gasped for air and bobbed up and down dozens of times as he struggled. Several camp staff walked past and did not appear to notice. It was only after he was motionless, face-down in the water that anyone tried to save him. From the paper’s account even these efforts leave many questions. Notably, “one staff member pushed an 8-year-old child who was holding onto the side of the pool toward the middle of the pool and urged the child to grab” the drowning boy.

The Oregonian did not detail the exact nature of the family’s lawsuit, though it is fair to infer that an Oregon wrongful death claim under ORS 30.020 is involved. In addition to the athletic club at which the boy was enrolled in a children’s summer day camp, the suit also names several club employees as well as the Oregon Health Authority and Benton County Environmental Health “saying the agencies were responsible for licensing or inspecting swimming pools.”

A bike safety measure that The Oregonian describes as the “top priority in the 2019 legislative session” for cycling advocates has passed both houses of the legislature and is headed to Governor Kate Brown for her approval. Its core is a deceptively simple statement: “A bicycle lane exists in an intersection if the bicycle lane is marked on opposite sides of the intersection in the same direction of travel.”

That might sound like common sense, but a judge in Bend shocked the biking community last fall by ruling otherwise (click here for the blog I wrote on this case at the time). As a matter of law that case turned on ORS 811.415, a statute that defines unsafe passing on the right. In the Bend case a commercial truck driver struck and killed a bike rider in an intersection as the cyclist was following a bike lane through an intersection. The truck was turning. The court held that bike lanes do not exist in places where they are not striped or painted as they pass through intersections, therefore the obligation the truck driver would have had to signal and take due care when turning across another traffic lane did not apply (the newspaper notes that a Multnomah County court issued a similar ruling in a 2009 case). This was a dubious bit of legal reasoning at the time. The legislature has now clarified the question, and deserves credit for moving swiftly to do so.

Under Oregon law a bike lane is just as much a ‘lane’ as one dedicated to cars. ORS 814.400 is titled “Application of vehicle laws to bicycles.” It gives cyclists rights, and just as it requires them to respect the rules of the road in their interactions with cars it requires motorists to respect the rights of cyclists. Indeed, a related law, ORS 814.420, requires that cyclists use bike lanes where they are available. Taking those as a starting point why would one not assume that a bike lane extends across an intersection? To believe it does not would imply that cars need not keep to their lane or turn only in a legal manner when they cross intersections. No one who has passed a driving test would ever believe that is the case.

According to a recent article published on the website of Bend, Oregon TV station KTVZ our country is home to almost 90 million dogs, and “every year, more than 4.5 million people in the United States are bitten by dogs, resulting in an estimated 800,000 injuries that need medical attention.”

Those are pretty extraordinary numbers. Closer to home “insurers in Oregon paid $5.1 million to settle 184 dog bite claims in 2018.” Those numbers do not put our state in the top ten nationwide, according to a recent analysis published by the Insurance Information Institute (III), but they are still significant for a state our size. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the article notes that senior citizens and children are the people most often injured in dog bite incidents.

There is, in fact, an entire chapter of Oregon law (ORS 609) concerning dogs. ORS 609.115 deals specifically with liability issues surrounding “potentially dangerous” animals and ORS 609.098 lays out the liability issues surrounding “dangerous dogs.”

Portland rightly enjoys a reputation as one of the most bike-friendly cities in the country. But fatal accidents still take place, drivers still are not as aware of cyclists as they should be. Even when drivers are trying to do the right thing (as many in Portland are) riders often find themselves struggling through nearly impossible situations.

Take, for example, NW 10thStreet. As a recent article posted on the BikePortland website demonstrates, it is hard for a rider in this part of downtown Portland not to feel endangered. A photo accompanying the article shows a narrow thoroughfare that contains on-street parking, a traffic lane and a streetcar track (with the streetcar and the cars moving in opposite directions). Any cyclist following the law and riding with auto traffic is immediately placed in a highly dangerous situation (as BikePortland notes, the law does allow cyclists to use the streetcar lane, but for obvious reasons many hesitate to do so). The gap between the traffic lane and the parked cars is uncomfortably narrow leaving riders dangerously exposed to drivers who might pull out or open car doors abruptly. There is more space on the opposite side, beyond the streetcar, but that is an area reserved for pedestrians and, in any case, there would usually be no safe place for a cyclist to go in the face of an oncoming tram.

Oregon law is quite explicit about the rights and responsibilities of bike riders. ORS 814.400 begins: “Every person riding a bicycle upon a public way is subject to the provisions applicable to and has the same rights and duties as the driver of any other vehicle.”

In the early part of last week six people died on Portland’s streets over the course of just a few days. At one point, according to The Oregonian, “emergency personnel responded to fatal accidents in North, Southeast and Northeast Portland” in a span of just 11 hours. Going into this holiday week, the newspaper reports, “14 people have died on Portland streets (in 2019), up from 10 deaths at the same time last year.”

City officials urged drivers to slow down, and the police chief announced on Twitter that “I am directing officers to increase enforcement.” “But,” she added, “this is everyone’s responsibility.” The newspaper quotes a city transportation official offering some advice that bears repeating: drivers “need to be alert and to look out for people walking, not drive distracted, not under the influence.”

I have used this space on many previous occasions to note Portland’s efforts to reduce pedestrian and cyclist deaths. A big part of that has been Portland’s participation in the global Vision Zero program (see links below). As The Oregonian explains, Vision Zero aspires to eliminate traffic deaths by 2025 through a combination of “redesigning streets, educating the public about safety concerns and enforcing traffic laws.” As part of Vision Zero Portland has both stepped up enforcement efforts and lowered the speed limit on key streets and roads around the city.

The series begins with several examples of prison and jail deaths, followed by a stark statistic: “Since 2008, at least 306 people across the Northwest have died after being taken to a county jail.” Over the course of a three-part investigation published last week Oregon Public Broadcasting, working in cooperation with other public media outlets in Oregon and Washington, offered a detailed, and disturbing, look at the state of health care available to people jailed here in the Pacific Northwest.

Notably, the death statistic does not come from an official source. As OPB reports, “until now, that number was unknown, in part because Oregon and Washington have not comprehensively tracked those deaths in county jails.” In other words: it took a media investigation to determine the extent of the problem, one that OPB calls “a crisis of rising death rates in overburdened jails that have been set up to fail the inmates they are tasked with keeping safe.”

OPB reports that suicide is “by far the leading cause of jail deaths in the Pacific Northwest, (accounting) for nearly half of all cases with a known cause of death.” Yet the issues the series raises concerning negligence and indifference on the part of jail staff are also significant. The series offers a number of examples of inmates who died after being served food to which they were allergic, or whose complaints about serious medical issues were ignored.

A two-vehicle accident involving a Portland police officer earlier this month merits special attention because of what it can teach us about civil options beyond workman’s comp available to people injured on the job.

The Oregonian reports that “a Portland police officer and another driver were seriously hurt” in a crash in I-205 earlier in March. “The officer was working a ‘static detail’ at a construction site on the northbound interstate south of Southeast Division Street when a driver hit the officer’s vehicle from behind. The officer was pinned in the vehicle and was extracted,” the newspaper writes. Injuries to both the officer and the driver of the SUV that allegedly struck his car are described as serious but not life-threatening.

From a legal perspective the officer now has some important choices to make. At this point most readers will rightly assume that the officer, having been injured on the job, will be covered under the police department’s workers’ compensation insurance program. That is true, but it is not the whole story. Under Oregon law the officer also has the right to hire his own attorney and can seek to recover non-economic damages related to the accident. “Non-economic damages” is a broad legal category that includes things such as pain and suffering and changes to the victim’s life. They do not include things like medical bills and lost wages and, as the legal resource website Justia explains “are less concrete than economic damages and are subjectively evaluated” whether by a judge or jury. (see link below) This element of subjectivity makes it especially important for anyone who has been injured in an accident to consult an experienced attorney who can walk victims and their families through the options and the evaluation process.

A lengthy article recently published in The New Yorker is shining a light on the extraordinary extent to which private companies have taken over health care in prisons. It is a trend that has grown quietly – and largely out of sight – over the last several decades, combining many of the worst elements of both our dysfunctional national health care system and the morally and legally ambiguous trend toward privately-run, for-profit, prisons.

The article details numerous cases in which private companies are alleged to have provided inadequate care whether through neglect or inadequate staffing and concludes: “Taken as a whole, evidence from cases across the country suggests that four decades of policy failures in both health care and criminal justice reform have left a largely neglected population vulnerable and, at times, at risk, and that for-profit companies, which were promoted as a solution, have instead become an integral part of a troubled system.”

Because prisoners represent a population with which many people have little sympathy, it is important to note here that cities, states and the federal government have a legal obligation to care for the people they lock up. “The standard of care that incarcerated people have a right to receive was established in the landmark case of Estelle v Gamble in 1976,” the magazine notes. In that case the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that “deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners” violates the constitution’s prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment.” As the article goes on to note, “Estelle also spawned a wave of civil-rights litigation seeking to enforce the Eighth Amendment protection,” a process which, over time, caused the standard of required care to become more precisely defined.

The Associated Press recently reported on the sentencing of a woman in Deschutes County to more than 12 years in prison following a December 2017 incident in which she struck and killed a 38-year-old Bend woman who was riding a bike.

The news agency, citing local TV station KTVZ, quotes the Deschutes County Circuit Judge overseeing the trial calling it “the most extreme reckless endangerment case:” he had ever seen. The defendant was convicted “for hitting and killing a cyclist while driving under the influence (of)… nearly a dozen prescription drugs, including her dog’s anxiety pills, at the time of the crash,” the AP reports. Clearly there is a case to be made for punitive damages here.

Though the criminal trial is now over, the question of civil damages is one that may still need to be addressed. Obviously there is a strong case to be made for a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the victim’s estate. It is also worth noting that, according to media reports, the woman was “riding with two friends” on a road east of Bend at the time of the accident. The survivors, even if they were not physically injured, may have a strong case to make for damages based on the mental distress they have suffered in the wake of their friend’s death. All of these parties – the decedent’s beneficiaries as well as the other two people impacted by the accident – have a strong claim to punitive damages.

Nearly four years ago I first wrote about the obscure, but critically important, issue of “subrogation.” This legal doctrine allows insurance companies to reimburse themselves out of settlements their clients receive for covered injuries.

The incident I wrote about back in 2015 was a classic example of the problem. A baseball fan who was savagely beaten in a stadium parking lot and who now faces a lifetime of medical expenses won an $18 million settlement. His ongoing medical expenses mean that he will need that money. But his insurance company went to court to try to claim a significant portion of the settlement.

Now the Oregon legislature is set to consider a bill that would limit the practice. According to a recent article in Willamette Weekly, SB 421 “would match the laws in many other states, where the injured party can be ‘made whole’ for all damages, including pain and suffering, from the at-fault party’s insurance before the injured party’s medical insurer gets paid.” According to the legislature’s website (see link below) the bill, which has bi-partisan sponsorship, has been referred to the Judiciary Committee, though a hearing on it has not yet been scheduled.

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