"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

A recent analysis by NPR News is drawing attention to a traffic safety paradox. Pedestrian deaths nationwide are at near-record high levels and the reason may partly be because of advances in auto safety.

“After two years of marked increases, the number of pedestrian fatalities in the US is holding steady with nearly 6,000 pedestrians killed in 2017, according to estimates from the Governors Highway Safety Association.” NPR writes that these numbers, are “tapering off” over the last year or so but remain at a near 25-year high. Moreover, these high numbers come “as deaths from other types of traffic fatalities are dropping,” a situation that analysts attribute to improved vehicle safety technology. These, NPR writes, “make crashes safer for people inside cars – but just as deadly for pedestrians.”

We all know that cars are far safer than they were a generation or two ago. Better construction, anti-lock braking systems, air bags, more advanced seat belts and better child seats (along with laws requiring drivers and passengers to use them) have all made surviving a crash far more likely. But outside the car things are very different. Cyclists are far more likely to wear helmets than they were 20 or 30 years ago, but in the case of a serious crash involving a bike and a car that may not make much difference. Pedestrians, as NPR notes, are just as likely as they have always been to die or suffer serious injury when hit by a car.

A recent story published by Courthouse News Service details a legal case in Arizona that deserves to be making headlines nationwide. There has been a lot of media coverage over the last few years of the abuses of the private, for-profit prison industry. The Arizona case, however, highlights what can go wrong even when the state is still in charge. It also reminds us of the critical role our courts play in overseeing those with power and ensuring they do their jobs properly and humanely.

In Arizona, according to the news service, the state retained control of the prisons that are the focus of the lawsuit, but contracted out medical services to “Corizon, one of the nation’s largest prison health care providers.” Citing reporting by local NPR affiliate KJZZ, the news service writes that a Corizon staff member told a doctor working with the company part-time “to cancel a pending infectious disease consultation for a prisoner” because the consultation was past due and the company risked being fined for its slow response. The whistleblower also reported instances of critical medication, such as insulin, being withheld from prisoners and of her superior ordering her not to treat an inmate who had suffered a heart attack. She alleges she was told to spend less time with patients and focus on paperwork instead.

This case raises serious political issues, reminding us that the ‘savings’ offered by privatizing public services can sometimes be illusory. It also raises an equally serious civil rights issue. As I have noted in the past, federal, and many state, laws require that inmates receive a level of health care comparable to what they could expect to receive were they free. Failure to provide that level of care is a civil rights issue as defined in 42 US Code 1983. This statute protects anyone who has been deprived of “any rights privileges or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws” by the government at any level. Crucially, that responsibility extends to the government’s agents – in this case, private contractors. Corizon is a private company, but because it is working for the government, the government’s obligation to provide proper medical care extends to the company itself. Corizon, in legal terms, becomes a “state actor” because they are under contract to, in this case, Arizona to treat people who are, ultimately, in the state’s care.

An article published just before the weekend in The Oregonian outlined a new effort to change the way the state handles juvenile jails in general and mental illness among juvenile detainees in particular. “Nearly a dozen organizations, including the ACLU of Oregon, as well as groups that advocate for people with mental illness and juveniles, asked Gov. Kate Brown for ‘support in reducing Oregon’s reliance on youth incarceration’ and ensuring better conditions for juveniles in custody,” the paper reports.

According to The Oregonian the initiative was “prompted by Disability Rights Oregon’s blistering critique of the Northern Oregon Regional Corrections Facility, known as Norcor, in The Dalles. The organization… found that juveniles were locked in their cells for hours at a time and punished ‘for looking around.’”

This new focus on the juvenile detention system follows equally sharp criticisms of Oregon’s child welfare system, something I wrote about at length last month. Taken together they paint a picture of state institutions ill-equipped to protect children who end up in the care of the government. The conditions described in The Oregonian’s account of the juvenile justice system are particularly shocking. The coalition report on Norcor in particular portrays it as an institution using “outdated policies designed to ‘break the will at any cost.’” This way of thinking, it adds, is “out of step with the latest research and practices on juvenile incarceration.”

A recent article in the Los Angeles Times (see link below) details the struggles that many people in northern California have faced in the wake of devastating fires that swept through the area late last year. Thousands of homes were destroyed in counties across the state. As the newspaper reports, 44 people died. Sadly, in the wake of this tragedy has come the inevitable reminder: in the words of the LA Times headline ‘your insurance company is not your friend.’

I wrote about this issue six months ago after hurricanes hit Florida and Texas. In the wake of the California wildfires the core issues are similar: an industry that will use the fine print to its advantage whenever possible, blithely ignore rules and regulations and do everything it can to do as little as possible for its customers, all while assuring them that it is there to ‘help’.

According to the LA Times the specific issue in California has been an influx of “adjusters who poured in from other states to help companies process claims” and who then “misinformed policyholders about their rights.” The paper reports that many of the out-of-state adjusters came from the South and were clearly unfamiliar with California law, which provides far stronger consumer protections than are in effect in many other parts of the country. Many of the out-of-state adjusters also appear not to have been properly registered to work in California, the paper reports. In the wake of lawsuits filed by victims, the paper quotes a spokesperson for the California Department of Insurance saying that “the agency is already investigating whether unregistered and unsupervised adjusters worked the Northern California fires.”

Lawsuits filed in Tennessee and South Carolina against a guardrail manufacturer whose products are used throughout the country are drawing attention to a potential hazard on highways nationwide. The different reactions of the states where the suits were filed, however, also requires our attention because of the potential legal issues it may create in the months and years to come.

According to a recent article in Claims Journal the lawsuits “accuse the Omaha, Nebraska based Lindsey Corporation of negligence in the design of X-LITE guardrails. Instead of telescoping to absorb impact when vehicles hit them, the guardrails pierced through vehicles, killing one woman and injuring another so severely she had to have a leg amputated, according to the complaints.”

Though Claims Journal reports that the company maintains “that their guardrails still meet federal guidelines” it’s obvious that Lindsey faces serious legal consequences for making and selling a product that many users now believe is defective. But the different responses from Tennessee and South Carolina also deserve our attention. According to Claims Journal “scrutiny of the guardrails has prompted Tennessee and other states to remove them from their roadways, but South Carolina transportation officials said they would leave the rails in place until they are damaged or outlive their lifespan.”

Considering the number of shocking stories that Oregon’s child care system has generated over the last few months one would think that reforming the system would be a priority for everyone involved. Yet as a recent report in The Oregonian details, pushback and outright obstruction on the part of the officials who manage the system is widespread and has continued for years.

Citing a new report by state auditors, the newspaper writes: “Officials as high-ranking as Gov. Kate Brown and former agency director Clyde Saiki repeatedly attempted to reform the system and pointed out key steps to do so, only to have agency leaders abandon those plans.” It goes on to quote the report, saying: “For over a decade, management’s response to crisis and scrutiny has been to reorganize the system, not to effectively plan to fix it.”

The auditor’s report reveals particular problems with the foster care system, according to the newspaper. This includes the striking acknowledgement that the Oregon child welfare “agency hasn’t been tracking its successes and failures in recruiting foster parents.”

Washington’s distracted driving law, formally known as the Driving Under the Influence of Electronics (DUIE) Act has been in effect since July. Many state residents, however, may only see it really take effect this week. A six month grace period that has been part of the law’s implementation is ending, according to a recent article in The Seattle Times.

The paper reports that the grace period was not mandatory, meaning that “some law-enforcement agencies have been ticketing offenders for months… (while) others issued warnings to educate drivers about the law.”

Fines under the Washington law are somewhat lower than those in Oregon: $136 (as opposed to $260) for a first offense and $234 for a second infraction within five years (in Oregon it’s $435).

Earlier this month the Portland City Council voted to approve “reducing the speed limit on all residential streets to 20 mph,” according to a statement issued by the city’s Bureau of Transportation. Street signs – and with them the speed limit street by street – will begin changing next month. The PBOT statement says it expects “to complete the process by April 1.”

Lest you think this is a minor thing, by the PBOT’s own reckoning “residential streets make up around 70 percent of Portland’s street network and a large proportion of the city’s total space… Most residential streets in Portland are narrow, have few marked crosswalks, and no bike lanes; given the tight space and lack of protection for people walking, using mobility devices, and biking it is important that people drive slowly on residential streets.”

The new lower speed limit is the latest element of the city’s “Vision Zero” plan – a series of initiatives launched in Portland and other cities around the country with the goal of eliminating pedestrian traffic deaths.

In the wake of two Oregon day care deaths in as many months late last year one might have thought that it would be a simple thing to build momentum in the legislature for reform and increased oversight, but in politics things are rarely that simple.

Earlier this month The Oregonian reported that Governor Kate Brown’s initiative to “beef up oversight of day cares” was receiving a “tepid response” in Salem. The paper reports that “the proposal would increase maximum fines for rule-breaking day cares while closing a licensing loophole that can allow bad providers to escape consequences.” At an Oregon House hearing, however, “committee members questioned if the state’s bid to create 14 new positions would actually move the needle and help ensure kids are safe.”

When the legislature does not move as quickly as it should, it is worth remembering that even without changes to current law our courts offer powerful tools for protecting children and enforcing accountability. For example, ORS 163.545 is a relatively short statute defining second-degree child neglect. This is criminal law but when it is invoked it also opens the legal door to civil actions.

The death of a 28-year-old apprentice electrician at a Klamath Falls mill just before Thanksgiving was recently the subject of a long article in The Oregonian. It explored the victim’s life in detail and also considered the broader workplace safety issues this tragedy raises.

According to the newspaper the man’s death was “Oregon’s 68th workplace fatality of 2017.” State records (see link below) indicate that this number grew to 79 by the end of the year. The paper reports that after answering a call for an electrician late in his shift the man fell “through the lid and into an in-ground vat filled with corrosive liquid heated to 170 degrees, which is used to soften logs before they are processed into plywood.” Doctors say his death would have been instantaneous.

After the incident “the company… installed a railing around the roughly 30-foot long vat,” according to the newspaper, but one must ask why such a basic safety precaution was not in place already. As an apprentice electrician regulations required the man to be supervised in such a dangerous area or to have a supervisory waiver from the state. The paper reports that state records indicate there was no waiver in place. Questions should also be raised about the amount of time that passed before the man’s disappearance at work was reported to the police.

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