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Matthew D. Kaplan

A recent Oregonian article outlined a North Portland accident involving a 13-year-old girl that could easily have been prevented if local officials had paid more attention to the concerns of Portland parents. As the newspaper reports, the girl was struck by a car while crossing at the intersection of North Russell Street and Flint Avenue. “The girl suffered a leg injury and was taken to a hospital,” the paper reports.

What makes this story stand out is the fact that the unmarked crosswalk near Harriet Tubman Middle School has been identified by both Portland Bureau of Transportation officials and Portland school officials as a potential trouble spot – one that ought to have a marked crosswalk. The Oregonian reports local transportation officials had visited this very intersection only “a couple of weeks” before the accident. The paper quotes a spokesman for the Bureau of Transportation saying: “We believe it’s a good place for a marked crosswalk.”

As the newspaper notes, “in Oregon, every intersection is legally a crosswalk, even if there’s no paint on the asphalt.” That means the girl was crossing the street legally – and doing so in a place that had been flagged by area parents on several occasions since the Tubman school’s recent reopening.

A court hearing in Bend earlier this month is bringing long overdue attention to some of the legal issues surrounding accidents and bike lanes. The Deschutes County proceeding focused on the death last November of a 31-year-old cyclist who was “hit and killed in an intersection by a FedEx truck,” according to a report in The Oregonian.

Prosecutors described bike lanes as the center of the case. “This is cultural,” the newspaper quotes the county prosecutor saying. “Many people just don’t think of them as lanes.”

According to the newspaper, the cyclist sped down a hill and through an intersection, colliding with the side of a FedEx semi-truck as it was making a right-turn from NW Wall Street onto NW Olney Avenue in Bend. The rider “was also traveling north on Wall, in a bike lane alongside the travel lane. (He) intended to go through the intersection and not turn right onto Olney Avenue,” according to The Oregonian.

This summer saw some of the largest and most dangerous wildfires ever recorded here in the West. The fall has brought two of the most destructive hurricanes in modern US history to South Carolina and Florida. So, it is with a kind of grim resignation that I return to the subject of insurance companies.

As I have written in the past – most recently in this post from last February – it is essential to look past the insurance industry’s warm and soothing slogans about how they’re always there when you need them. Insurance companies are businesses and their profitability is inversely related to the number and size of the claims they actually pay. That shouldn’t need to be said but, sadly, it does.

This goes well beyond a simple case of ‘always read the fine print.’ Insurance policies are contracts like any other. But it is one thing for a company to inform a policyholder that they are not covered for something and quite another thing for companies to actively seek ways to get out of paying claims that any reasonable policyholder should expect to be paid.

A recent article in the Oregonian detailed the unfolding story of a four-month-old baby who died at an illegal day care center in Hood River and the disturbing degree of information the state had about it in the months leading up to the tragedy.

The newspaper reports that the baby boy was the youngest of ten children being cared for at the facility. Its owners had their license revoked last year after it emerged that they “gave children ‘little white pills’ of melatonin so that they would sleep during nap times according to court documents.” But after being shut down in 2017 the three owners “soon opened the business back up, this time with a different name.”

All three women have now “been indicted on charges of second-degree manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and first-degree criminal mistreatment,” according to the paper. Yet that fact does not make the disturbing questions surrounding this case go away. In the wake of the scandal surrounding Southeast Portland’s Sunnyside Sprouts daycare the state was supposed to have put in place better policies. These were designed to address the question of child care providers moving from one jurisdiction to another in an effort to conceal disciplinary action or the suspension of licenses. They were also designed to make it easier for parents to find out about worrying regulatory or licensing issues. The case of Mama Shell’s Daycare (which became “Mama Bear’s”) in Hood River clearly indicates that these new rules are not being implemented in the way most of us thought they would be.

Sometimes it takes a tragedy to push the legal system to close a loophole. In the wake of a 2013 accident that left two little girls dead, Governor Kate Brown has done just that: signing a new law Thursday that clarifies the legal obligations of hit-and-run drivers.

“Anna and Abigail’s Law” is named in honor of 6 and 11-year old sisters from Forest Grove “who were struck as they played in a leaf pile” in 2013, according to an article in The Oregonian. It requires “drivers who suspect that they may have caused personal or property damage after a collision to report it to police.”

“Lawmakers pursued the change after the woman connected with felony hit-and-run in connection to the case… had her three-year probation overturned by the Oregon Court of Appeals,” according to the newspaper. At the time, Oregon law did not “require a driver to return to the scene of an accident if he or she learned someone was injured or killed after the fact. In granting (the) appeal the court also ruled there wasn’t enough evidence to establish without a reasonable doubt that (the driver) had reason to believe anyone was hurt after she ran over the leaf pile.”

The Oregonian puts it bluntly in the very first sentence of a recent article: “The number of people killed on city streets and country roads in Oregon is 13 percent higher so far this year, a death toll driven upward this summer by one of the deadliest crashes in state history.”

The single crash mentioned in that last sentence was an eight-fatality incident last month in Harney County, but, as the article goes on to detail, rather than viewing that crash as a statistical outlier police are concerned because they see it as “part of a worrisome trend this year: Multiple people dying in a single incident.” In all, the state “has seen 12 more fatal crashes than last year, but the number of people killed has increased by 37.” The article (linked below) also includes a table that dramatically illustrates how both road deaths and the number of crashes producing them has changed over the last few years. The increase in both the number of crashes and the number of deaths compared to last year is striking, as is the up-and-down (yet consistently high) nature of the numbers themselves over time.

There are a variety of reasons for this. The newspaper notes that over the last three decades the number of troopers patrolling Oregon’s roads has declined in absolute terms even as the state’s population has grown. The officers who are available focus their efforts on I-5 and other major roads and highways, despite the fact that an increasing number of fatal crashes take place on smaller roads, particularly in rural areas. A state official also tells the Oregonian that “while it’s difficult to prove, distracted driving is likely leading to more deaths and serious injuries.” This is in spite of both education campaigns and recently toughened state laws against distracted driving. And, of course, there is alcohol.

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.

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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