The death this month of a 15-year-old Grant’s Pass boy as he waited for his school bus raises serious legal questions that I would like to take a moment to explore. As reported recently in The Oregonian, the boy “was waiting on the sidewalk at his bus stop around 6:50 am” when a pick-up truck “drove over Redwood Avenue’s center turn lane, into the opposite lane of travel and onto the sidewalk, hitting him.”
The driver of the pick-up was a 21-year-old man from Central Point. After hitting the boy, the paper reports, he “drove off the sidewalk and stopped nearby, authorities said.” He is now being held in a local jail and faces both a criminally negligent homicide charge and separate drug possession charges. The Oregonian reports that heroin was found in the pick-up though it does not say whether blood tests indicate that the driver was under the influence of drugs or any other substance at the time of the accident.
Beyond the criminal charges the driver faces this is exactly the sort of case where civil liability is justified to help family members know that justice has truly been served. To that end, it is instructive to examine Oregon’s Wrongful Death statute (ORS 30.020) in greater detail.
Oregon’s Wrongful Death laws specifically cite the surviving parents of a decedent as one of the categories of person eligible to bring an action. The standard set by the law is that a wrongful death action may be brought in any situation where “the decedent might have maintained an action, had the decedent lived, against the wrongdoer for an injury done by the same act or omission.” In other words, because the boy and his family would clearly have had grounds for bringing a reckless or negligent driving suit had be survived being struck by the car there are grounds now to bring wrongful death charges against the driver.
The law requires any such suit to be brought within three years of the date of the incident. It also allows for an extension of the filing period in cases where the “wrongful act or omission” is only discovered at a later time. While this obviously does not apply to a traffic accident in broad daylight in a populated area, it offers a essential benefit to loved ones and survivors who may only discover only months or years later that, for example, a workplace accident or death in a hospital or nursing home should have been prevented.
As a wrongful death attorney practicing in both Oregon and Washington State a core part of my practice involves helping family members determine the best legal course of action after the death of a loved one. The ability to bring a civil action in addition to any criminal charges which may be involved is an important option that our legal system offers an accident victim’s survivors. It helps them cope with both emotional pain and suffering and the economic consequences of a loved one’s untimely death.
ORS 810.140 – Reckless Driving