Articles Posted in Injuries to Minors

The sad case of a 10-year-old Klamath Falls girl and the severe injuries she suffered when attacked by four dogs has brought the complex legal questions surrounding Oregon dog attacks back onto the public agenda.

As reported by area newspapers the East Oregonian and the Herald and News the June attack left the girl with “a torn scalp, punctured lung and broken ribs” and required several weeks of in-patient treatment at a Portland hospital. A ‘GoFundMe’ page set up by friends and neighbors to help the family deal with medical expenses quickly raised over $15,000, according to the Herald and News.

Meanwhile, according to the East Oregonian, legal proceedings concerning the dogs moved ahead. Earlier this month the Associated Press reported that the Klamath County Commission “voted unanimously… that it was in the public interest to euthanize the animals.” The paper reported that the commission, after investigating the attack, determined that the owner of the dogs, all English mastiffs, had the “inclination but not the ability” to keep the animals under proper control. It rejected an offer on the owner’s part to move the dogs to a different part of the state.

A groundbreaking study published last week by the New York Times has reverberated through the sports world. “A neuropathologist has examined the brains of 111 NFL players – and 110 were found to have CTE, the degenerative disease linked to repeated blows to the head,” the paper writes.

A few days later, National Public Radio reported that the NFL was ending a $30 million research partnership with the National Institutes of Health. Citing original reporting by ESPN, NPR said that after almost five years nearly half of the funds the league committed to the study of brain injuries remained unspent “following a bitter dispute in 2015 in which the NFL backed out of a major study that had been awarded to a researcher who had been critical of the League.”

It goes without saying that youth and high school sports are a far cry from the NFL, but with these two stories in the news it is worth revisiting the issue of youth sports and TBI for two reasons. First, anyone playing in the NFL only got there after years of youth, high school and college football. It has long been established that head injuries have a cumulative effect, so it is incumbent on all of us to ask what can be done to minimize these injuries long before young people get to the professional level. Second, and more importantly, whatever one may think of the NFL’s approach and attitude toward concussion issues, professional football players enter each game with the best equipment possible – including helmets built to standards far more exacting than anything a middle or high school student wears onto the field. That, in turn, requires us to look carefully at both the practices and the laws governing youth contact sports to see whether we are doing everything we can to prevent injuries to children.

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.

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.

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.

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.”