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Matthew D. Kaplan

I have written on several previous occasions about corporate America’s systematic attacks on the class action system. A recent news item from the Associated Press offers a positive reason to revisit this topic. As the news agency writes, the huge insurance company State Farm reached a settlement earlier this month “in a federal class action lawsuit claiming the company funneled money to the campaign of an Illinois Supreme Court candidate.”

The preliminary $250 million settlement has its roots in a 1999 case that went against State Farm “for its use of aftermarket car parts in repairs.” Thousands of policyholders had sued the company alleging that its decision to pay for used (“aftermarket”) rather than new car parts when carrying out repairs on their vehicles violated the terms of the company’s contracts with customers. State Farm lost the original 1999 case and was facing the prospect of a $1.06 billion judgement against it. The company appealed, which is obviously it’s right and a reasonable thing for it to do. What was not right and proper was for the company to attempt to fix the final result of that appeal.

With the case making its way toward the Illinois Supreme Court, State Farm allegedly poured money into the campaign of a candidate for chief justice who, once elected, provided the key vote to reverse the trial court’s decision. In 2005 “the court ruled that the nationwide plaintiff class was improperly certified… It also contended using aftermarket car parts was not a breach of State Farm policyholders contracts.”

A lawsuit filed by the family of a Portland cyclist who was seriously injured last December, in the words of The Oregonian, “by a car driving 60 mph in one of Portland’s most dangerous cyclist-vehicle crossings” has filed a lawsuit targeting both the City of Portland and the State of Oregon.

The lawsuit raises questions about the responsibility not only of the driver who struck the 43-year-old Portland bike rider but also about the city and state’s failure to address what has long been recognized as an exceptionally dangerous stretch of road for bike riders. The newspaper reports that the accident took place at a point on North Greeley Avenue where “the southbound bike lane crosses an on-ramp for Interstate-5 – a section where the speed limit is 45 mph but drivers often travel 55 to 60 mph.” According to the court filing (see link in the Oregonian article below) the biker “suffered a traumatic brain injury” as well as numerous broken bones and a collapsed lung, among other injuries.

This accident took place despite the rider checking the ramp carefully. According to the paper, he saw a truck approaching but correctly judged that he had a safe amount of space to make the required cross-over. What he could not see was a car passing the truck at high speed, and failing to heed the bike lane markings.

A recent Associated Press article about the deaths of two workers building a new luxury hotel in the Orlando area caught my eye because it is relevant to workplace safety discussions that often take place here in Oregon.

According to the news agency, “two construction workers fell to their deaths when scaffolding collapsed as they were pouring concrete on the seventh floor or a 16-story hotel under construction near Disney World.” A fire and rescue spokesman is quoted saying that the scaffolding “gave way” for reasons that are still under investigation, “sending two workers plummeting to the ground below.” The hotel being built was a Marriott, and it was a spokesman for the Marriott corporation who addressed the media in the wake of the accident. As is often the case in the hotel industry, however, actual ownership of the building lies elsewhere. According to the AP the building is actually “owned and developed by DCS investment holdings, a private equity group based in West Palm Beach, Florida.” DCS is also managing the construction project itself, according to the news agency.

While the article does not explicitly make this point, it is also fair to assume that a number of subcontractors are also involved. We do not know for certain whether one of those might be a scaffolding company, but such an arrangement would be the norm throughout much of the construction industry.

As Oregonians and Washingtonians prepared to get away for the holiday weekend a serious drunk driving accident in Veneta, in Lane County west of Eugene, highlighted some of the potential dangers that always accompany Labor Day Weekend.

According to Roseburg TV station KPIC, “a wildland firefighter with a blood alcohol content twice the legal limit crashed her small car into a pickup stopped in a highway construction zone… on highway 126 West.” According to the station the car’s driver was the only person injured in the Oregon DUII accident despite the fact that she hit a car with such force that it set off a chain reaction, leading to a total of four vehicles being involved in the crash. The accident took place at 2am in an area where construction was taking place, and also endangered a flagger who was working on the road, the station reports.

Incidents like this are a reminder of the importance of safe driving, especially on this holiday weekend. According to KPIC the driver who allegedly caused the Eugene-area accident had recently finished a lengthy firefighting shift. Such admirable work, however, cannot excuse driving with double the legal limit of alcohol in one’s bloodstream.

A three-year-old girl was taken to a Corvallis hospital last week after falling off a ride at the Benton County Fair, according to a report from Eugene TV station KVAL. An article posted on the station’s website notes that “deputies received reports that the child fell a short distance off a ride that spun in a circle. The child was alone on the ride.”

“Preliminary investigations have revealed that the lap restraint meant to secure the child failed,” the station writes. “After the accident, the ride was shut down.”

We are at the time of year where traveling carnivals and county fairs are regular fixtures of American life. As such, this accident is a reminder of the degree to which regulation of these potentially dangerous rides varies significantly from state to state (and, to some extent, within states). As a 2016 article from The Oregonian noted: “When it comes to state carnival ride regulation, Oregon falls somewhere in the middle, between California – a state with a dense thicket of amusement park and carnival regulations – and Alabama, where regulation is essentially nonexistent.” (if you are travelling this summer it is worth clicking on the link to that article at the end of this post and scrolling down to the map detailing the extent of carnival regulation state-by-state).

Over the years I have written a lot about the way bikes, pedestrians, cars and public transport all interact on Portland’s streets. In recent weeks something new has joined this mix: e-scooters. As a technology, these have been around for several years they are now appearing around Portland in far greater numbers after the city’s Bureau of Transportation issued permits to two e-scooter rental companies at the end of last month.

According to local TV station KGW, “the introduction of e-scooters is part of the PBOT’s shared scooter pilot program, which will last through November 20. As part of the 120-day program, permitted companies will be able to offer scooters for rent. The total number of permitted scooters will be capped at 2,500… People can rent a scooter through an app and drop it off anywhere in the city when they are finished.”

That all sounds simple and straightforward enough, but, as is so often the case, the details look a lot more complicated. During its recently completed 2018 session the Oregon legislature modified a lengthy list of statutes related to e-scooters (click here for the complete list). Unfortunately, when one looks at the actual text (see links below) several sections are frustratingly vague.

Late last week The Oregonian, citing the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, reported that “a Portland man died and two others were injured when a motorcycle and car collided… in Fairview.” The accident took place late at night on Northeast Halsey Street. According to the paper, a westbound motorcycle carrying both an adult and a child “collided with an eastbound car at Halsey and Seventh streets.”

The motorcycle’s driver was pronounced dead at the scene. His passenger (whose age was not announced) was taken “to a local hospital with serious injuries. The car driver had minor injuries and was also taken to a hospital.”

Many of the details of this incident remain unclear. Notably, the media reports do not say in which lane (eastbound or westbound) took place, making it difficult at this point to speculate about who may have been at fault. Two things, however, are clear. First, the accident serves as a reminder of the special responsibilities adults have when they have children as passengers in motor vehicles, or are responsible for an accident in which a child is killed or injured. Second, this incident highlights some disturbing loopholes in Oregon’s child safety laws when it comes to motorcycles.

A recent news release from the US Department of Transportation lays for groundwork for this year’s Child Passenger Safety Week, which is scheduled to be held nationwide from September 23 to 29. The announcement (see link below) contains links to a variety of materials – everything from broadcast-ready public service spots for TV stations and the web to sample op-eds ready for submission to local newspapers.

Perhaps the most important materials, however, are the practical ones: flyers demonstrating the proper way to install a car seat and its accompanying harness or tether, checklists to help new parents make sure they have carried out every step of the process for securing their child, and posters illustrating the stages at which a child should move from a rear-facing child seat to a front-facing one and from there to a booster seat. One might have thought that after decades of educational campaigns all this would not be necessary. But, as the news release reminds us, car crashes remain a “leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 13.”

With that in mind, it is also worth reminding parents and other caregivers that proper child seats are not just a good idea, they are the law. As outlined in ORS 811.210, Oregon law requires all children under the age of two to be “properly secured with a child safety system in a rear-facing position.” Children who are over age two but weigh less than 40 pounds may face forward provided they remain in an appropriate, state and federal-approved, child seat. Anyone weighing more than 40 pounds who is shorter than four feet nine inches must use a booster seat. Failure to comply with any of these laws is a Class D violation, subject to a fine of up to $500.

A recent Associated Press report, republished in The Oregonian, details the legal consequences of a senseless and tragic fire that killed three dozen people in California in December 2016. According to the news agency, 36 people died as a result of “a devastating fire at a dilapidated California warehouse that occurred during an unpermitted concert.”

Under the terms of an agreement with prosecutors two men pled no contest to 36 charges of involuntary manslaughter. Sentencing will take place in August, according to the AP. One man faces up to nine years in prison and the other six years. Both have already been in prison for a year. The defendant facing the longer sentence “rented the warehouse and illegally converted it into an entertainment venue and residences that became known as the ‘Ghost Ship’ before the December 2016 blaze.”

The article quotes a number of the victims’ family members expressing displeasure at the outcome, especially since the defendants are likely to receive credit for time already served and could be released after serving only half of their eventual sentences. It is precisely situations like this that remind us of the importance of our civil courts, where people placed in the kind of impossible situations confronting these family members can seek the justice they feel the criminal system has denied them. Whether in California or Oregon the most obvious claim to be considered here is wrongful death. ORS 30.020 defines this as “the death of a person… caused by the wrongful act or omission of another.” In a case like this the evidence to support such a claim is clear. At the most basic level, the ‘club’ where the fire took place was operating without the proper licenses and permits. Had the owners gone through the required procedures there is every reason to believe that fire marshals would have demanded extensive changes to the facility before allowing it to open to the public.

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.”

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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