The Associated Press reported earlier this month on a boy who died “after falling off a parade float on his seventh birthday.” The tragic event took place during the Miner’s Jubilee Parade in Baker City. The news agency says the boy “was struck by the rear wheels of a commercial vehicle” after falling from the float.

According to AP the authorities in Baker City are treating the event as an accident. But even if this tragedy was an accident that does not mean that no person or organization bears responsibility for what happened. Indeed, when a child is killed or injured all of us have a special obligation to investigate the circumstances to the fullest possible extent.

From a legal standpoint, this means looking at questions of health and safety in much the same way we might consider any other question of negligence leading to an injury or death. Special attention needs to be paid both to the organization of the parade and to the construction and operation of the float on which the child was riding.

An important thing to understand about the US Supreme Court is that its rulings can often seem narrow and technical even as they have sweeping repercussions for every American. That was the case with two rulings that were issued late last month, just as the court’s annual term came to an end. In both cases the Court might have appeared to be focused on narrow issues that concern mainly other courts and lawyers when, in fact, it was issuing rulings that will have a profound impact on our justice system in general and on Americans’ ability to seek redress in our courts.

The first case, Ziglar v Abbasi focuses on the arrest and detention of hundreds of Muslim men in the wake of 9/11. Though most of the men were held for immigration violations they were treated as suspected terrorists and, in numerous cases, subjected to unusually harsh interrogations and prison conditions. A group of these men sued the government for damages, citing a 1971 Supreme Court decision that allowed state and local officials to be sued for damages when they violate a person’s constitutional rights. The legal question seemed fairly straightforward: one might assume that if state officials can be sued for violating people’s rights federal officials too can be sued when they do so. By a vote of 4-2, however, the Supreme Court disagreed (two justices recused themselves from the case and the newest justice, Neil Gorsuch, had not yet joined the court when the case was argued).

The important thing to understand is that as a legal precedent effecting ordinary Americans the fact that this case involved egregious rights violations in the aftermath of a terrorist attack is not the point. Using the national security implications of that extreme event as a pretext the court has made it far more difficult for any citizen to sue any employee of the federal government. Put simply: this is not about terrorism and national security, it is about our constitutional right to have access to the courts when a government official abuses his or her power.

The news last week that a 3-year-old Beaverton girl was in critical condition after falling from a 2nd floor window is the most tragic sort of reminder of the importance of window safety. As I have written on several previous occasions, when children die or are injured in window falls the incidents are especially sad because they are so easily preventable.

According to television station KATU emergency services crews responded to reports of the fall and found that the girl had landed on a concrete surface below the window. She was taken to the Oregon Health and Science University Hospital (OSHU).

This summer, as it has for several years, SafeKids Oregon is promoting a campaign called ‘Stop at 4’ (see link below). The name refers to the maximum distance – 4 inches – that windows should be allowed to open in any place where children are, or even might be, present. The campaign also encourages the installation of safety bars on windows.

On Wednesday the US House of Representatives passed the misleadingly-named “Protecting Access to Care Act” on a largely party-line vote of 218-210 (all of the ‘yes’ votes came from Republicans; the noes included 191 Democrats and 19 Republicans). There is no indication yet whether the Senate will take up this little-noticed piece of legislation, but it is worth keeping an eye on, because the provisions of the bill could dramatically curtail patients’ rights. Earlier this month the Trump administration issued a statement of support for the bill – signaling that the President will sign the legislation if it ever reaches his desk.

Earlier this week the website HuffPost published a detailed analysis of the bill by a law professor from New York University. According to that article, the legislation would severely limit the “non-economic” damages that could be awarded in medical malpractice suits involving “injuries like permanent disability, mutilation, trauma, loss of a limb, blindness, sexual or reproductive harm, and other types of suffering and pain. HR 1215 would federally-mandate that if you suffer the most severe non-economic injuries, they are worth exactly $250,000 (no matter what the local jury finds).” In addition, the bill would impose an arbitrary time limit of three years on healthcare lawsuits, making it impossible for injured people to claim compensation for problems that emerged only slowly over a longer period of time.

The measure, in other words, would override state law to protect the economic interests of doctors, hospitals, the drug industry, medical device manufacturers and the insurers who cover all of them.

A recent article in The Oregonian details a distressingly long list of safety and oversight failures at a single daycare center in Keizer leading to a number of injuries to children.

According to the newspaper the Iris Valley Learning Center “amassed one of the worst safety and health records in Oregon over a decade based on sheer volume of state rule violations… The state Office of Child Care tagged Iris Valley with 102 violations from 2007 through 2016.” This included eight instances of broken bones – “the largest number of fractures at any provider during that period.”

It is important to note that the instances cited by the paper are all forms of neglect – lack of proper supervision of children, inadequate staff numbers, an unsanitary kitchen – rather than abuse per se. This is important because while we often focus attention on physical abuse it needs to be understood that child neglect is also a serious offense under Oregon law. Second Degree Child Neglect is a Class A Misdemeanor. As defined in ORS 163.545 it includes any action that results in leaving “the child unattended in or at any place for such period of time as may be likely to endanger the health or welfare of such child.” (First Degree Child Neglect – ORS 163.547 – is a felony but is much more narrowly defined and mainly concerns drug offenses that take place in close proximity to children).

A few weeks ago I wrote about efforts to design a ‘breathalyzer for distracted driving’ – an app that law enforcement officers could use to determine whether a smartphone or other electronic device had been in use in the moments surrounding an auto accident.

Now, according to a Seattle Times story republished in The Oregonian, “anti-distraction software by a tech startup called Cellepathy would automatically go into a restrictive ‘driver mode’ when a phone is within a moving vehicle.”

Technology along these lines has long been a goal of activists looking for ways to reduce or end distracted driving. The challenges are formidable. At the most basic level, how does one make a technology sufficiently sophisticated to distinguish between the driver of a vehicle and passengers (this problem sunk some early ideas, such as using a smartphone’s GPS system to tell when the car is moving)? How does one make it both simple to use and relatively difficult to fool?

A recent article in The Oregonian documented efforts by Disability Rights Oregon to convince “the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office to transfer jail inmates undergoing mental health crises to the city’s new emergency psychiatric care center if needed.” As the article outlines, the Northeast Portland facility recently opened, offering “a long-awaited alternative to having police take people in crisis to regular hospital ERs.”

As the newspaper reports “a no-guns policy and other logistics make the request a tough sell.” What it does not lay out, however, is an especially strong legal argument for using the Unity Center for Behavioral Health: prisoners’ rights.

As I have written in other contexts, one of the most important legal tools for ensuring that people held in custody are treated in a humane way that respects their rights is 42 USC 1983. This allows individuals to sue when the government deprives them of any of the “rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws.” In plain English: it offers a mechanism for people who have been mistreated by government at any level (local, state, federal) to have their day in court and obtain justice.

With the Oregon Senate taking up HB 2597, a bill that would significantly increase fines for distracted driving, this is a good moment to look at both the state of the law here in Oregon and at a new technology-driven effort to combat the problem.

As The Oregonian reports, the state House passed HB 2597 early this month. According to the newspaper’s legislative tracking site the Senate held its first hearings last week and the Senate Judiciary Committee has a work session on the measure scheduled this Tuesday (May 30). If enacted, the legislation would make major – and much needed – alterations to Oregon’s existing distracted driving law.

Under current law, as laid out in ORS 811.507, distracted driving is a Class C traffic violation, punishable by a fine of up to $500 (though in practice assessed fines are often much lower – usually around $160). According to The Oregonian “under HB 2597, Oregon drivers could be fined up to $2000 for using a ‘mobile electronic device’ while on the roads. Fines for a first offense could total $1000 and be erased if drivers take a state-approved distracted driving avoidance class at their own expense. Subsequent offenses, or a first offense that causes a traffic collision, would result in higher fines that could not be waived.”

According to a recent Oregonian article there have been three instances of water-related fatalities in Oregon in just the last few weeks. With the long holiday weekend upon us, that makes this an especially important moment to remind everyone of essential safety precautions, especially when it comes to preventing injuries to children.

In an article this week the newspaper noted that “authorities suspended their search… for a missing swimmer who’s presumed drowned at Three Pools, a popular swimming hole in Marion County. A man who jumped into the North Umpqua River in Douglas County is also presumed drowned. And a Portland man is presumed drowned after he jumped into the Clackamas River.” It goes on to note that 21 “people drowned in public, natural waterbodies in Oregon and southwest Washington last summer.”

Memorial Day weekend will bring even more people to the water, and potentially expose them to a wide variety of dangers, but the good news is that many of these can be minimized through a few basic, common sense precautions. Among the easiest – and most important – is ensuring that everyone in a boat, canoe or kayak is wearing a life jacket. Nearly a year ago I used this space to publicize the Aaron Peters Water Safety Fund, a non-profit dedicated to keeping everyone, but especially kids, safe when they are on the water. The fund, as its website explains, “is designed to help aid in building kiosks for life jackets” with the goal of preventing drownings in high-risk areas. Life jackets can be borrowed from APWSF kiosks for free. Last summer the fund exceeded its initial goals by setting up kiosks in eight locations around the state in just a few months. The link below offers both a complete list of the current kiosks and more information on the fund and it’s important work.

An Oregon Supreme Court ruling issued last week has received remarkably little coverage outside of the specialized legal press, but it deserves much more attention. In the case of Smith v Providence Health & Services (361 Or 456) the court reversed rulings from both the trial and appellate courts, and found that a legal doctrine known as Loss of Chance “is cognizable under Oregon common law.” In doing so, it significantly increased the rights of ordinary Oregonians confronted with failures or negligence on the part of the medical system.

As the Bend Bulletin, one of the few newspapers to have taken note of the case, aptly noted, the ruling means that Oregonians “can bring medical malpractice cases not only when they are injured but also when negligent care denies them a treatment with a potentially better outcome.”

The case revolved around a man “who went to a Hood River emergency room in 2011 concerned that he was having a stroke. Doctors discharged him without ordering an MRI or prescribing clot-busting drugs. By the time an MRI confirmed a stroke a week later (he) had incurred significant brain damage.” Both the article and court’s opinion note that had these precautions been taken there is a one-in-three chance that the plaintiff would have recovered substantially, perhaps even completely, from the stroke.