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Matthew D. Kaplan

The scandal surrounding Southeast Portland’s Sunnyside Sprouts daycare center continues to spur efforts to tighten the regulation and oversite of both Oregon childcare centers and the people who work in them.

As I noted in a blog last month, Sunnyside Sprouts was shut down by regulators last May after it emerged that children were being abused there. It was also found to be operating without a license. As the investigation proceeded it emerged that the center’s owner had lost her California childcare license in 2005. When applying for an Oregon license she had acknowledged having worked in childcare in California but lied about her licensing status there. Shockingly, parents were not informed about any of this, even after the state became aware of abuse at Sunnyside Sprouts. Many continued sending their children there after the abuse and licensing issues had been uncovered but before the facility was shut. Governor Kate Brown demanded that state agencies move to address all these issues. According to an article published last week in The Oregonian the first proposals in response to her mandate have now been unveiled.

According to The Oregonian “beginning August 1 the (state) Office of Child Care will contact an out-of-state licensing department any time applicants indicate they provided care elsewhere. State officials have designated a staff person to conduct out-of-state reviews to ensure the license ‘was in good standing.’ If state officials suspect an applicant worked outside Oregon but failed to disclose that information” additional reviews will be conducted. Applicants who indicate that they have worked in child care in another state will also be required to provide their license numbers from that state. Finally, “the Office of Child Care will take steps to ensure parents are better informed about problems at day cares.”

Late last month, as many people were preparing for the holiday week, a story in The Oregonian offered a painful reminder of an issue that arises every summer. The paper reported that a 21-month-old girl in Roseburg died after her mother left her unattended in the back seat of her car for hours. What made the story even more shocking was the mother’s occupation: a nurse, and the car’s location: a medical center parking lot.

The mother later “told police she believed she had dropped her daughter off at day care before arriving at work that morning.” In that respect the case resembles a 2014 incident in Hillsboro that led to the death of a six-month-old baby – and, indeed, dozens of similar cases across the country every year.

As an article published this week at CNN.com noted, “as of July 1, 18 children have already lost their lives this year in hot car death incidents.” The news channel reports that over the last two decades the US has averaged 37 hot car deaths per year with July often proving to be the single deadliest month. That, in turn, raises a deeper question: why has the number of hot car deaths nationwide remained so stubbornly consistent over more than two decades despite widespread public awareness campaigns? A chart on the CNN website (see link below) shows the annual death toll to be remarkably consistent over time. There were a few years (2010, 2005) when it approached 50, and one (2015) when it fell into the low 20s. But, those outliers aside, the figure year-in-year-out is right around that 20-year average of 37 deaths. This is despite the fact that it is an issue nearly everyone who owns a car is aware of, and one about which public information campaigns are conducted every year.

In many ways it is a small thing: the installation of tiny sensors on lampposts, first at a few key intersections and, later, around much of the city. But the Portland Bureau of Transportation believes that what it calls “Smart City PDX” is an essential step toward making the city safer for everyone who walks, bikes or drives a motor vehicle.

As outlined in a recent article in The Oregonian, the initiative initially will involve “installing 200 sensors along three high-crash corridors on the city’s eastside… The traffic  sensors will provide real-time 24/7 data to transportation staff, giving bureaucrats accurate information on the number of cars or pedestrians crossing a road at a given time and how fast people are driving.” This is in contrast to the city’s traditional reliance on “volunteers or infrequent traffic surveys” to collect similar information.

The Oregonian notes that the project is scheduled to last for 18 months, but it is easy to envision a situation in which this kind of data collection is expanded and becomes a regular part of the city’s planning process. Considering the number of accidents we have seen in recent years involving pedestrians and cyclists, any improvement in the data surrounding our streets is to be welcomed. The paper quotes the head of the PBOT saying that the information gathered through this project “will help city leaders ‘improve street design’ and make streets safer for all.” According to The Oregonian as of mid-June “at least 17 people have died on Portland streets in 2018.”

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.

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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