Articles Posted in Premises Liability

A recent Associated Press report, republished in The Oregonian, details the legal consequences of a senseless and tragic fire that killed three dozen people in California in December 2016. According to the news agency, 36 people died as a result of “a devastating fire at a dilapidated California warehouse that occurred during an unpermitted concert.”

Under the terms of an agreement with prosecutors two men pled no contest to 36 charges of involuntary manslaughter. Sentencing will take place in August, according to the AP. One man faces up to nine years in prison and the other six years. Both have already been in prison for a year. The defendant facing the longer sentence “rented the warehouse and illegally converted it into an entertainment venue and residences that became known as the ‘Ghost Ship’ before the December 2016 blaze.”

The article quotes a number of the victims’ family members expressing displeasure at the outcome, especially since the defendants are likely to receive credit for time already served and could be released after serving only half of their eventual sentences. It is precisely situations like this that remind us of the importance of our civil courts, where people placed in the kind of impossible situations confronting these family members can seek the justice they feel the criminal system has denied them. Whether in California or Oregon the most obvious claim to be considered here is wrongful death. ORS 30.020 defines this as “the death of a person… caused by the wrongful act or omission of another.” In a case like this the evidence to support such a claim is clear. At the most basic level, the ‘club’ where the fire took place was operating without the proper licenses and permits. Had the owners gone through the required procedures there is every reason to believe that fire marshals would have demanded extensive changes to the facility before allowing it to open to the public.

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.

A fatal stabbing at a niteclub in Northeast Portland last week has led to a murder charge, according to a report published in The Oregonian. It also raises a significant civil law question, however, one that deserves greater public attention as the case unfolds in the weeks and months to come.

According to the newspaper a 29-year-old woman was stabbed to death in a club on NE 60th Avenue last week following an argument with a 23-year-old woman. Citing police the newspaper reports that the two women knew each other. The victim died at the scene and the alleged killer was arrested without incident shortly thereafter at a nearby convenience store. In addition to murder the suspect has been charged with unlawful use of a weapon, according to the newspaper.

What makes this case particularly interesting from a civil perspective is the long history of violence in or near the club. According to The Oregonian “the club has been connected with violence in the past. A 33-year-old man died and a 21-year-old woman was injured in an overnight shooting outside the club in 2013. And in January 2011 a man celebrating his 24th birthday was fatally shot outside the club.”

A recent article in the Salem Statesman-Journal highlighted a popular hiking area near the town of Pacific City that has become increasingly dangerous. The newspaper solicited feedback from readers about the best way to make the area around Cape Kiwanda safer.

According to the newspaper, “seven people have died in the popular Oregon coast destination… since 2009, including five during the past eight months. The tragedies have been almost entirely experienced by teenagers, with the average age of victims at 19 years. Most of the time the victims hiked up a sand dune, disregarded fencing and signs, climbed onto a hazardous sandstone bluff and fell into the ocean.”

The article notes that state and county officials are searching for new ways to deal with the problem of drowning in the area. The paper published photos of the existing signs at the Cape, which read simply “Danger: Do not go beyond this point,” and contrasted them with a sign on a different part of the trail which takes a much more forceful approach. That posting reads: “Danger!! Several fatalities have occurred in and around these waters. STAY ON THE TRAIL”

An Associated Press report republished by the Salem Statesman-Journal this month is distressing. According to the news agency, a 3-year-old girl was critically injured in Oregon City when the child “fell into a crawl space.”

This was not, however, an at-home accident. The crawl space was in a house that the girl’s mother was viewing along with a real estate agent. In fact, there is some evidence that the accident could have been worse. “Clackamas County fire officials say the girl was playing with her brother beneath stairs near the hatch to the crawl space” at the time of the accident, according to the news agency.

While controlling one’s children is ultimately a parent’s responsibility, the details of this Oregon child injury accident raise a number of unsettling questions related to Oregon premises liability. A homeowner who places a house on the market for sale has a responsibility to ensure that it is safe – or that potential buyers are warned well in advance that they are visiting an unsafe property. Responsibility for conveying this information to buyers and other potential visitors, in turn, passes to a real estate agent when that agent brings someone onto a property to view it. Parents viewing a potential family home should not be confronted with a safety problem of this seriousness when they are merely visiting the property for a look.

Even as police investigate the death last week of a 33-year-old man outside a Northeast Portland strip club the circumstances surrounding the incident have raised serious questions about how well the club was handling its security arrangements – questions that could eventually expose the club to an Oregon wrongful death claim.

As The Oregonian reported last week, the man “collapsed on the sidewalk outside the club and died from a single gunshot wound to the head.” A 21-year-old woman was also injured in the Portland shooting incident and was treated at an area hospital.

“The homicide marked the second fatal shooting at the location in two years. An inspector from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission has launched an investigation with Portland police to see if alcohol service played any role in the shooting,” the newspaper notes, citing a spokeswoman for the commission.

A fascinating article in The Oregonian last week spotlights an oft-overlooked Portland premises liability issue. The article details how a local non-profit group, Southwest Trails, has spent years creating walking trails throughout the Portland area. Most of the time these trails run along streets. In a few cases, however, they cut through city owned easements behind houses.

When the trails go through an easement they are not supposed to be improved (by, for example, adding a staircase) without both a city building permit and the permission of the adjacent property owners. Property owners could, according to the paper, incur Oregon property liability for accidents on a staircase or path abutting their homes. As the article details, however, it has recently emerged that Southwest Trails often failed to obtain the necessary clearances for its work – and that until recently the city never enforced the requirement for permits.

The issue is an especially serious one because of the liability issues to which property owners might be exposed. When someone is injured on public property, or on a public easement, a Portland premises liability attorney should be consulted immediately to see whether a case exists under Oregon personal injury law.

According to news reports, the Environmental Protection Agency is reconsidering its endorsement that it is okay to use ground-up, recycled tires on kids’ playgrounds and sports fields. The tire mulch has been used to cushion the ground in the event of a fall accident.

Now, however, the EPA says there is not enough information to determine whether use of these recycled tires could actually prove a health hazard, and communities in Oregon and other US states are wondering whether they could lead to the inhalation of metals, lead, and chemicals if children touch, inhale, or swallow the material.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says older fields that are more worn down may pose a greater risk for lead exposure. It’s also important to note, however, that not all turf fibers are made with lead.

With the summer holidays fast approaching, many school kids are likely to spend time outdoors playing in local playgrounds or on playground equipments in residential backyards. It’s a good time to note that recycled tires may not be the only issue of concern when it comes to kids’ safety.

Playground Accidents and Injuries
SafeKids USA calls playground accidents the number one cause of injuries to kids ages of 5 to 14—with 150,000 kids each year ending up in US emergency rooms because they were involved in accidents involving playground equipment. About 10 kids die from playground injuries annually, with many injuries caused by fall accidents or strangulation accidents, such as when a piece of clothing gets caught on playground equipment.

Playground equipment that have been known to cause injuries to kids include:

• Swings with metal or wood seats or half-bucket seats
• Adjustable seesaws with chains
• Merry-go-rounds or roundabouts that lack the proper handgrips
• Poorly secured climbing ropes
• Monkey bars
• Lack of a proper playground surface
A defective playground product that causes personal injury can be grounds for an Oregon products liability case involving injuries to children. A premise that has a hazard that causes injury can be grounds for an Oregon premises liability lawsuit.

EPA rethinks play padding, Chicago Tribune, June 5, 2009
No. 1 Cause of Injury in Elementary School: Playground Accidents, Safe Kids USA
Related Web Resources:
Playground Safety,
US Environmental Protection Agency

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In Oregon, a Multnomah County jury has awarded the family of an Oregon family $560,000 for injuries sustained by a toddler who fell head first from the second-story duplex that her family was renting in Gresham. The girl, Isabella White, cracked her skull, suffered brain tissue loss, and experienced bleeding in her brain when her head struck the concrete pavement in April 2007. The Oregon premises liability defendants in the case were Keys Rental Management and Keys Rental Holding Co. Only the management company was found liable.

Isabella is now 4, but she was just 2 ½ when the fall accident happened. She fell through a window after her mother had opened it and the window screen gave way.

During the premises liability trial, the family’s Oregon personal injury lawyer argued that the apartment management company should have warned Isabella’s parents that the window in the duplex—just 23 inches off the ground—was a potential injury hazard for kids. Their lawyer also accused the defendant of failing to install safety devices, such as a child-safe screen, that could have prevented Isabella’s fall accident.

The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act has finally gone into effect. The new law mandates that all public pools and spas be fitted with a federally approved anti-entrapment drain or grate cover to prevent people from getting caught by the suction and drowning. Children are especially at high risk of suffering a fatal injury when getting caught in a swimming pool, wading pool, or hot tub drain.

The law is named after the granddaughter of former US Secretary of State James Baker. Virginia, 7, drowned in 2002 after she sat on the floor drain of a hot tub. Her mother, Nancy Baker, tried to pull her daughter from the drain but to no avail.

Last March, 6-year-old Abigail Taylor died nearly nine months after the suction from a wading pool drain pulled out part of her intestinal tract. She had to undergo liver, small bowel, and pancreas transplants and suffered complications before her death.

The design of the approved dome shaped drain covers should keep the human body from being suctioned by a pool or hot tub drain. Schools, recreational centers, hotels, health clubs, and apartments are among those affected by the new law. Some pool owners and managers, however, are complaining that drain manufacturers have not been able to keep up with the demand for these federally approved designs, which is making it harder for compliance to occur. Hopefully, these drains should be in place in spas and pools throughout Oregon when the hot weather returns.

Pool Entrapment Accidents
According to Safe Kids USA, about 100 children in the United States sustained serious injuries and at least 33 children younger than 14 died because of entrapment by a pool or spa drain between 1985 and 2004. Serious personal injuries can include body entrapment, massive internal injuries, traumatic brain injuries, drowning, and wrongful death.

If you or your child was seriously injured in a pool entrapment accident, you may have grounds to file an Oregon premises liability claim or products liability lawsuit against the liable party.

New Federal Pool Safety Law to Take Effect, KOHD, December 11, 2008
Pool drain safety covers required today, but supply is backlogged, Sacramento Bee, December 20, 2008
Federal drain law forces pool closings, Boston Herald, January 5, 2008
Related Web Resource:
The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act (PDF)

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