Articles Posted in Injuries to Minors

Few would disagree that today’s cars are safer than cars built in 1967. Still, it is astonishing to discover that a key safety standard applied to virtually every vehicle on America’s roads has not been updated in all that time. The feature is seatback strength, and, as a recent article in The Oregonian’s business section outlines, the standard by which the government assesses it has not changed in 53 years.

Seatback strength is something few car buyers think about. But even if they did, fewer still are in any position to assess it. Auto manufacturers assure customers that car seats meet or exceed all federal safety requirements, without adding that the requirements themselves are so out of date “that a lawn chair could pass it” according to the consumer advocacy organization FairWarning, which authored The Oregonian article.

The organization says engineers who have studied the issue regard the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) standards for car seats as “laughably weak… In actual rear-end collisions, the seat pushing forward against the weight of a person in the front seat can cause the seat to collapse, sometimes throwing the driver or passenger head-first into the back or out of the rear window, and also endangering anyone in the back seat.”

The death of a 13-year-old boy in a boating accident on Hagg Lake in Washington County has highlighted a number of safety issues we all need to keep in mind during this holiday weekend and in the coming weeks before fall sets in.

According to The Oregonian, the boy died “after he was hit by a motorboat.” A 21-year-old man “was arrested and is facing charges of boating under the influence, second-degree manslaughter and recklessly endangering another person.” The newspaper quotes a Washington County sheriff’s spokesman saying that he was not sure whether the boy was swimming or wading at the time he was struck, but that it is clear the fatal incident occurred “not very far off the shore.”

Terrible tragedies like this always raise a significant number of legal issues. A few of those are touched on by The Oregonian, such as reckless endangerment and BUI (the boating equivalent of DUI), which is specifically governed by ORS 830.325. This statute is far more general than the better known ones governing DUI. A boater violates it by simply operating the boat “under the influence of an intoxicating liquor, cannabis, an inhalant or controlled substance.” The law does not set a legal threshold for “influence”. Related sections explicitly forbid reckless boating (ORS 830.315) and, perhaps significantly, extend liability for reckless activity to the boat’s owner (ORS 830.330).

Just seven months ago the governor signed a new law designed to improve safety at daycare facilities around Oregon. Yet shortly after New Year’s “Oregon child care regulators imposed first-of-their-kind restrictions… on a Hillsboro day care where an infant died January 6,” according to reporting by The Oregonian. Calling the facility a “serious danger to the health and safety of children… regulators ordered the 24/7 provider to watch over children who are asleep at all times and to increase staffing beyond the baseline required by law.” The facility will also have to stop accepting children under the age of two.

These are the first penalties imposed under the new law, so one might look at them as a sign that the new measures are working. Yet the fact that they were only imposed after a child had died should be cause for concern throughout Oregon. Abuse and neglect are subject to mandatory reporting requirements for many occupations in our state, including anyone working at a daycare center. If the violations of state law were this serious one has to wonder why they were never reported in the days and weeks before the baby died, and also why it took the state more than two weeks after the baby’s death to sanction the center.

Even after penalties have been imposed by the state a tragedy such as this should prompt the bereaved family to consider what remedies the court system can offer. In civil law there are a number of potential ways to probe more deeply into what happened in Hillsboro and to consider who should be held accountable. These could include a wrongful death action under ORS 30.020. The problems identified by the state in sanctioning the daycare center on their face make a case for a claim under ORS 163.545 (Child Neglect in the Second Degree).

A recent article in the Salem Statesman-Journal draws attention to infant deaths, an area where decades of government and private education efforts have both shown dramatic progress and encountered stubborn resistance.

The paper notes that “every year, about 40 babies in Oregon go to sleep and never wake up… deaths can be traced to negligence, substance abuse and unsafe sleep practices. But deaths from dangerous sleeping arrangements – one of the leading causes of infant mortality in Oregon – are preventable.”

The good news is that compared to the rest of the nation Oregon’s infant death rate is relatively low. A chart on the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) website (see link below) places both Oregon and Washington in the second-lowest tier for infant deaths nationwide, between 72.1 and 86.8 per 100,000 live births from 2013 to 2017. That puts both states below the national average of 100.5 per 100,000 (the lowest rates are in Vermont and Washington DC, both at 37.4; Alabama had the highest rate at 189.2)

I first used this space to talk about the importance of life jackets and water safety back in 2016. That’s when a charity I actively support – the Aaron Peters Water Safety fund – set up a free life jacket kiosk in Gresham’s Oxbow Park, near the Sandy River. The fund is named for a 13-year-old boy who drowned in the Sandy River in 2015. It seeks to prevent similar tragedies by making life vests easily available for free to anyone wanting or needing to borrow one.

Sadly, The Oregonian, this week, brings word of another tragedy on the river. The newspaper reports that “the body of a 15-year-old boy who disappeared while wading… in the Sandy River at Oxbow Regional Park was recovered” on Monday. The paper quotes a spokesman for the Gresham fire department who “said the teen was wading in about knee-deep water when he went under at a drop-off in the river.”

This tragedy is a reminder on several levels of just how easily and how quickly something can go wrong around the water. The fact that the victim was not a small child but, rather a teenager, and that the fatal accident began in water that was only knee-deep are troubling reminders that even situations that seem simple and safe can quickly turn deadly. It is especially tragic that the accident took place close to an Aaron Peters Fund safety kiosk. As the TV station KGW noted in a report (see link below) the kiosk is still in place and is being properly maintained and stocked.

A tragedy and a near-tragedy on the other side of the country offer important reminders of a problem that recurs every summer: hot car deaths.

According to The New York Times twin one-year-olds died in the Bronx late last month after their father forgot to drop them off at day care. They were left in the backseat of his car while he worked an entire eight hour shift at a VA hospital. A few days later an off-duty firefighter in the neighboring New York City borough of Queens saved a four-year-old boy by smashing the window of a car in a shopping center parking lot.

According to the website Gothamist, the father in the latter incident later told police that he had only been inside the store for fifteen minutes. That highlights one of the key issues with hot car deaths – something that we all cannot be reminded about too many times: “A car can heat up 19 degrees in just 10 minutes. And cracking a window doesn’t help,” as the website SafeKids notes. Younger children, such as the twins in the Bronx, are at particular risk because “their bodies heat up three to five times faster than an adult’s.”

Just after the Memorial Day holiday weekend, Governor Kate Brown signed HB 2027. This essential legislation has been making its way through the legislature since the beginning of the year, and goes a long way toward closing a legal gap I first wrote about last November.

As The Oregonian notes, quoting one of the bill’s sponsors, this “will give the Office of Child Care the tools to gather information, inspect facilities and hold providers accountable for meeting the highest standards of safety and quality care for children.” Specifically, the new law will strengthen oversight of the day care industry by giving the state Office of Child Care the authority “to issue subpoenas, take depositions, compel witness statements and require the disclosure of records during investigations,” according to the newspaper.

Perhaps even more importantly, it also prevents child care givers who face suspension proceedings from working in the industry.

A shooting incident earlier this month at a teen-focused dance party is raising serious questions about safety and security as we move into summer – a time when the number of youth-focused events always increases.

As outlined in a recent Oregonian article, an argument outside an art space on southeast Madison Street that doubles as a dance club led to a shooting that injured five people, among them a 17-year-old girl. The paper reports that “a man standing outside the warehouse at the corner of Madison and Third Avenue fired at least two shots into the open garage bay and someone fired back at least five shots from inside.” Organizers say “about 200” people were inside the dance venue at the time for what was billed as the “First Official Teen summer Party.” The warehouse is also occupied by a number of other businesses and despite the late hour the newspapers reporting makes it clear that some of those other offices were also occupied at the time.

There were a number of people around the dance venue wearing t-shirts marked ‘Security’ but it is unclear what, if anything, they were doing. Citing police reporting, the newspaper writes that “officers responding to the original call encountered a chaotic scene, with people leaving on foot and in vehicles.”

An incident last summer at a Corvallis athletic club reads like every parent’s nightmare in condensed form. According to a recent article in The Oregonian “the parents of a 5-year-old boy who drowned in a swimming pool at a Corvallis summer camp have filed a $56.6 million lawsuit, claiming the camp didn’t have a lifeguard on duty who might have seen the boy struggling for life over four minutes last summer.”

According to the newspaper the boy went down a waterslide unattended. He was not wearing a life vest, despite his parents having explicitly told the camp that their son would need a flotation device whenever in the water because he cannot swim. The paper reports that he gasped for air and bobbed up and down dozens of times as he struggled. Several camp staff walked past and did not appear to notice. It was only after he was motionless, face-down in the water that anyone tried to save him. From the paper’s account even these efforts leave many questions. Notably, “one staff member pushed an 8-year-old child who was holding onto the side of the pool toward the middle of the pool and urged the child to grab” the drowning boy.

The Oregonian did not detail the exact nature of the family’s lawsuit, though it is fair to infer that an Oregon wrongful death claim under ORS 30.020 is involved. In addition to the athletic club at which the boy was enrolled in a children’s summer day camp, the suit also names several club employees as well as the Oregon Health Authority and Benton County Environmental Health “saying the agencies were responsible for licensing or inspecting swimming pools.”

Following up on my recent blog about the dangers in Oregon’s system of uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage an incident on Interstate-5 near Olympia, Washington is bringing similar issues into focus north of the Columbia River.

According to The Olympian an arraignment is scheduled to take place next week for a man “whose vehicle crashed into a 16-year-old Oregon girl” killing her and injuring both the driver himself and two other people. The 40-year-old man from Poulsbo, Washington faces vehicular homicide charges “as well as four counts of reckless endangerment.”

The newspaper reports that the accident took place when one car, which multiple witnesses described as driving erratically, hit two other cars that were stopped in a breakdown lane and waiting for assistance. The 16-year-old who had been driving one of those cars was killed in the accident and her mother was seriously injured. Two other people – the girl’s uncle and brother – were not injured. Also injured was the driver of the erratic car along with his 8-year-old daughter.

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