Articles Posted in Injuries to Minors

2016 saw “the largest number of children’s product recalls in more than a decade,” according to the Chicago Tribune and a report published earlier this month by the non-profit watchdog group Kids in Danger.

The unusually high total was driven by two especially high-profile recalls: IKEA’s withdrawal of its Malm collection dressers and chests of drawers (click here for the blog I wrote on the subject after a $50 million settlement in the case was announced late last year) and McDonald’s move to recall millions of activity watches after the wristbands were found to cause skin irritations. The Tribune reports that each of these incidents accounted for around 29 million units out of a total of nearly 67 million units of children’s products pulled off the market in 2016.

The executive director of Kids in Danger, speaking to the newspaper, summarized the problem succinctly: “This is not a regulatory problem,” she said. “This is a problem with companies not acting quickly enough to take what is a dangerous product out of use.” The IKEA case is a particularly striking example because the now-recalled dressers had been on the market for many years. One death linked to them took place in 1989.

A recent article – written by a doctor – in the New York Times states it bluntly: “The mix of drinking and driving is as dangerous to adolescents as you think it is, dangerous when adolescents are driving, and also dangerous when they are the passengers.” The piece goes on to note that “alcohol is a factor in half of the deaths of people under 21 from motor vehicle crashes.” The article also notes that alcohol-related traffic accident deaths among teens are roughly evenly distributed between drivers and passengers.

In one sense this is not news, but at a broader level it is good to be reminded of how serious an issue drunk driving still is, despite decades of public awareness campaigns. That it should still be a factor in so many teen deaths is perhaps a bit surprising a generation after the drinking age was raised to 21 throughout the country.

According to the newspaper parental example remains one of the most powerful factors in determining young people’s attitudes toward drinking and driving. “What parents do – the way they drink and whether they drink at all – is more important than what they might say about alcohol,” the Times notes. Studies have found that peer pressure also remains a serious issue: teens are much more likely to binge drink if they are hanging around with other people their own age who are doing the same thing. Oregon, like every state, has strict laws governing both drunk driving (ORS 813.010) and the broader category of reckless driving that often accompanies it (ORS 811.140). The possibility of serious consequences including injuries to children and wrongful deaths is one of the things that makes drinking and driving such a serious matter.

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.

Last week the Associated Press reported on a terrible house fire in Riddle, in rural Douglas County, that left four children dead and their parents and a sibling in critical condition at a Portland hospital. According to the news agency the cause of the deadly house fire was a space heater.

AP cites a Facebook post by the local fire chief in which he explains that “a component of the family’s fireplace that circulated heated air back into the house had malfunctioned several days before. The family bought the space heater to stay warm until they could get the fireplace repaired. Four children ages 4 to 13 died in the blaze.”

As a 2014 article in the Vancouver Columbian noted: “the Federal Emergency Management Agency reports that while only two percent of home fires involve portable heaters, they account for a disproportionate 25 percent of fire fatalities.” The paper added a warning for consumers that “it’s easy to miss a recall notice.” Indeed, it is easy to miss precisely because there are so many of them. A search of the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s recall database turns up page after page of heater recalls. Every few months some model or other is pulled from the market. This situation has continued for years.

The announcement last month that furniture giant Ikea will pay $50 million to the families of three children killed when its dressers tipped over on top of them may bring closure for families of the victims. The broader question is whether it will lead to long-term changes in the company’s behavior.

As a recent article in The Washington Post outlines “the children, no more than two years old, died when Ikea dressers toppled over with crushing force. In all cases the lethal furniture was one of Ikea’s Malm dressers, a line of popular assemble-it-yourself chests.” The newspaper adds that “such a payout may be among the largest-ever settlements of its type.”

In looking at Oregon’s laws concerning dangerous products and injuries to children large corporations often take solace from ORS 30.910. This states that “it is a disputable presumption in a products liability civil action that a product as manufactured and sold or leased is not unreasonably dangerous for its intended use.”

The extraordinary news of a lawsuit filed this week in Los Angeles alleging that a major university looked the other way as a school doctor abused students, some of them Olympic-level athletes, is a stern but necessary reminder of the role our courts play in holding abusers to account.

According to detailed reporting by ESPN “officials at Michigan State University missed early warning signs about… the school doctor and former USA Gymnastics team physician accused in recent months of multiple sex crimes.”

According to ESPN, citing legal proceedings, the team doctor conducted what he called “inter-vaginal adjustments” on an 18-year-old athlete who had come to him for treatment of back pain. Over time the ‘treatments’ became more and more intrusive to a point where few reasonable people reading the descriptions of them could characterize them as anything other than sexual assault.

Two recent articles in the online health publication MedPage Today are the latest of a growing number of pieces questioning the effectiveness of “Heads Up” – the youth sports concussion awareness and prevention program sponsored by the federal government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As the journal outlines, “Heads Up was launched in 2003 by CDC’s Injury Center and 26 partners, including the National Football League, YMCA and medical societies. Organizers produce and distribute resources, statistics and overviews of concussion laws and policies focused on high school sports, youth sports, parents, schools and health care providers.” The NFL has sponsored its own variation on the program, canned “Heads Up Football.” Despite their similar names, the NFL’s program is not formally connected to or endorsed by the CDC, according to MedPage Today. It’s use, however, is mandatory in youth football programs here in Oregon according to the journal (the only other state that requires coaches and youth football programs to use Heads Up Football is Vermont, though the program has gained widespread acceptance nationwide). Heads Up Football is designed to promote safe tackling and blocking techniques.

The question, however, is whether it works and a lot of that is a question of enforcement. The article notes that a study in Texas found that “among 185 school athletes who were examined for concussions at the hospital’s sports clinic in 2014, 38% had returned to play the same day they suffered the head injury – without being cleared by a medical professional and despite medical guidelines and state law that should have kept the students on the sidelines.”

Today is back to school day here in Portland and that means that in many neighborhoods the streets and sidewalks are going to filled with kids headed to school in the morning and home or to after-school activities each afternoon. Coming one week after a 15-year-old was killed while crossing a city street this is a time to reflect on what we can all do to help keep kids safe.

According to a report by TV station KATU, the fatal crosswalk accident took place earlier this month at the corner of Southeast Hawthorne and 43rd. The 15-year-old girl was hit by a 20-year-old driver who “was passing other cars, reaching upwards of 60 mph” before the fatal accident. The girl’s friends and family came together last Friday for a memorial bike ride in her honor that began on Salmon Street, stopped at City Hall and ended at the accident site. “The protestors, specifically, have taken issue with Vision Zero, Portland’s initiative to reduce and eventually eliminate traffic deaths,” KATU wrote about the memorial ride. “Critics argue the initiative hasn’t done much except outline a goal.”

With the accident freshly in mind The Oregonian offered some useful reminders concerning back-to-school safety. The newspaper notes that there are no statewide regulations requiring school zones to be identified in a consistent manner. That creates a special responsibility for drivers to be aware of their surroundings, since it isn’t always immediately clear that one is around a school, especially when in an unfamiliar neighborhood or city. The paper notes that only 30 percent of kids arrive at school in a family car and 22 percent ride a school bus. That leaves about one-third of all students walking to school while another 10 percent ride bikes.

With the first day of school here in Portland now less than two weeks away this is a good time to focus our attention once again on the issue of lead in school drinking water. As I wrote in a blog last May, the issue emerged with special urgency as the previous school year drew to a close with the citywide scandal in Flint, Michigan drawing national attention to lead poisoning issues nationwide.

Unfortunately if local and national media coverage are anything to go by the answer to the question: ‘Have the Portland schools used the summer months to fix the problem?’ is: hard to say; it isn’t clear. An article published in The Oregonian just this week focused on similar problems in Beaverton – indicating that the problem is not confined to Oregon’s largest city, but with the Portland Schools still trying to finalize selection of an interim superintendent attention appears to have drifted away from the issue of lead in the school system’s drinking water.

As a report last week in The Oregonian detailed, the Portland Public Schools system’s record is not good. “Lead-reducing filters cost about $100 and are proven by independent laboratories to reduce lead to below 10 parts per billion. The district used filters that in 2008 cost $12.87 apiece.” A 2007 plan to install filters directly on drinking fountains went awry when it was discovered that the contractor used the wrong filters. A 2011 attempt using a different company led to filters that were supposed to last seven months failing after only 12 days.

Two months ago I wrote about the legal issues surrounding traveling carnivals and the fact that in many parts of the country they receive far fewer safety inspections than one might think. The death last week of a 10-year-old boy who was riding what is billed as the world’s largest waterslide, has brought these issues sharply into focus with new attention being paid to fixed-location rides in theme parks, and how they differ, in regulatory terms, from traveling carnivals. The 168-foot-tall waterslide where this month’s tragedy occurred is located at an amusement park near Kansas City, Kansas.

One might expect that large rides designed to induce an adrenaline rush through speed and danger would receive more regular and more careful attention than a traveling show: they offer even greater potential danger (because of the heights and speeds involved) yet are far easier to inspect (since they are not constantly moving from town to town). As the reporting since last week’s tragedy has shown, however, that assumption is badly misplaced.

The Kansas City Star reports that the “responsibility for inspecting Schlitterbahn water park rests primarily with its owners, not any state or federal agency.” The newspaper added that the water slide where the boy died “had not been inspected by the state since it opened two years ago, government records show.” More tellingly, the paper reports that a Kansas law governing amusement park rides requires annual inspections but allows these to be conducted by private-sector inspectors hired by the ride’s owners. The state can audit the inspection records, but is prevented by law from doing so more than twice every six months. According to the Star there have been no state inspections of the waterslide where the boy died in the two years since the ride opened.