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The commercials talk about your being “in good hands” or that they’re “like a good neighbor” but, too many times, insurance companies are not the reliable helpers they advertise, especially if that help involves paying you everything you’re owed on a claim. When your insurance company has unreasonably and unfairly denied your claim, a knowledgeable Oregon auto accident lawyer can help you assess exactly what your options are.

Regarding those options when an insurance company acted in bad faith, a recent ruling from the Oregon Court of Appeals may have expanded them even more, opening the door to recovery of noneconomic damages.

The underlying dispute involved a man who died when his friend accidentally shot him during a camping trip. After the man’s tragic passing, his wife filed a claim with their life insurance company, Federal Insurance. The insurance company denied the wife’s claim on the $3,000 policy.

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The link below will take you to an article from the Yamhill News-Register covering five deaths that occurred in a six year period at the Yamhill County Jail.  In addition to the closed Jed Hawk Myers case, I am currently representing family members in three cases against Yamhill County and Wellpath, their contracted medical provider, for Civil Rights violations resulting in the death of folks who had not been convicted of any crime.  It doesn’t take very long to realize there is some commonality to these cases.

In the case of Kathy Norman, both the Yamhill County Sheriff’s deputies and the Wellpath Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) on duty were fully aware that Ms. Norman was beginning to detox from alcohol; they had been told by the ER providers, the transporting police officer, and Ms. Norman herself.  They also knew that detoxing from alcohol can be easily and successfully treated with medication.  They knew that the condition of folks detoxing from alcohol can change rapidly and can be deadly.  Nonetheless, they accepted custody of Ms. Norman and then never evaluated her detox symptoms or took any vital signs.  The Norman case has some similarities to the Jed Hawk Myers and Debbie Samples cases from 2015 and 2016.  All these cases involved detainees who were identified to be medically vulnerable and who needed to be lodged in a cell with video surveillance.  In both the Myers and Norman cases, they were put into these cells without any vital signs being taken, and no effort by anyone to return to get that crucial information.  In both the Norman and Myers cases deputies simply looked through the very narrow glass window in the cell door to do “security checks”. Security checks involve a deputy looking long enough (about 2 seconds) to make sure the person in the cell is present and alive.  These are not checks designed to obtain medical information.  In both Myers and Norman, it took them being on the floor and not breathing before anyone entered their cells to check on them.  In both the Samples and Norman cases, hospital providers communicated to the jail staff the need for specific care and conditions to watch out for; Samples being suicidal and Norman detoxing from alcohol.  Tragically in both situations, that advice went largely ignored and resulted in the preventable deaths from the exact conditions the Sheriff’s office was warned of.  Myers, Samples, and Norman needed to be checked on more frequently and with more attention until they were stable, or sent to an appropriate medical provider where they could get the necessary care.  Jail policies call for different levels of checks in terms of increments of time.  All inmates are checked by deputies at less than one-hour intervals; medical and suicide checks can be in 30 or 15 minute increments.  None of the victims were looked at any more often than any other detainees with no medical issues.

The county will say they have contracted with Wellpath and that they rely on them to deal with all medical issues.  “They are the experts…” But jail policies and Oregon laws state that ultimately inmate healthcare is still the county’s responsibility.  After all, it was only five months prior to Ms. Norman’s death that Sheriff Svenson wrote an editorial in the Yamhill County News Register taking full responsibility for Mr. Myers’ and Ms. Samples’ deaths.  “The buck stops here”, he wrote.  Apparently, that is just until the next jail death or his re-election comes along, as there have been three more deaths since that confessional editorial.  After Ms. Norman’s death, Sheriff Svenson was quoted in the local paper saying there is “zero indication” the staff was negligent in anyway.  He went on to praise the medical provider saying, “the contractor is doing a great job.” and “it’s nice to know there is a nurse in the jail at all times. It’s been very good.” While it is good to have someone with some medical training, it is too much for one LPN to take on alone.  There are times when the LPN is not able to closely monitor those in medical because the nurse often has to spend hours passing out medication to the other inmates and/or may be over at the juvenile facility.  How can this be Sheriff Svenson’s response when both medical and Yamhill County deputies knew Ms. Norman was detoxing, yet they took no vitals, took no detox history, did no detox evaluation, did not closely monitor her, withheld medication, and never called the ER staff for more information they might need to treat her.  They just locked her into the cell, never entered her cell to check on her condition, and failed to give her lifesaving medication.

A recent article in The Oregonian outlined what has become a depressingly common story: the abrupt disappearance of Saudi Arabian students facing criminal charges here in Oregon. The newspaper reports that it “has found criminal cases involving at least five Saudi nationals who vanished before they faced trial or completed their jail sentence in Oregon.”

The suspects “include two accused rapists, a pair of hit-and-run drivers and one man with child porn on his computer.” A 2014 case detailed by the newspaper fits the pattern: shortly after the man’s arrest a Saudi diplomat appeared at the local district attorney’s office to post bail for the accused student. Having made bail and been released the defendant later failed to appear for his trial. As the newspaper puts it, the “cases raise new questions about the role the Saudi government may have played in assisting its citizens fleeing prosecution in Oregon – or possibly elsewhere in the United States.”

Any conduct along those lines would be a serious violation of diplomatic norms. Questions like that lie outside the scope of this blog, but there are other issues raised by these cases that are of immediate concern to us here.

Last month I wrote about the problems plaguing Portland’s Unity Center for Behavioral Health.  According to The Oregonian, serious reports of neglect and abuse began to emerge almost as soon as the facility opened in 2017. In short order there was evidence of at least 16 incidents that ought to have been reported to police but were not. Now, only a few weeks later, the center is in the news again, with the paper reporting that its director has stepped down. “Legacy Health, which operates Unity, gave no explanation for her departure… although she will stay on as an advisory member of the Unity Board of Managers.”

As the paper outlines, “within the first month of opening, Unity staff reported instances of neglect and abuse within the facility. A federal and state investigation, started in spring 2018, eventually found that staff were poorly trained and underworked.” This, at what was routinely described as one of the state’s premier mental health facilities.

This incident raises serious questions about Oregon’s regulation and oversight of health care facilities. I have been covering the issue in this blog for several years and, more importantly, it has been the subject of some excellent investigative reporting by a number of Oregon media outlets. It is worth asking, however, why these issues never seem to go away. The mandatory reporting obligations of almost all staff members and even many of the people simply passing through a facility like Unity (medical or law enforcement professionals who might visit, for example) ought to offer strong protection for patients but, clearly, they do not (see links below for more information on mandatory reporting as well as the numbers to call to report abuse and neglect). This is where Oregon’s civil and criminal laws enter the picture. They are designed to prevent abuse in nursing homes, mental care centers and similar facilities.

I have written on several previous occasions about corporate America’s systematic attacks on the class action system. A recent news item from the Associated Press offers a positive reason to revisit this topic. As the news agency writes, the huge insurance company State Farm reached a settlement earlier this month “in a federal class action lawsuit claiming the company funneled money to the campaign of an Illinois Supreme Court candidate.”

The preliminary $250 million settlement has its roots in a 1999 case that went against State Farm “for its use of aftermarket car parts in repairs.” Thousands of policyholders had sued the company alleging that its decision to pay for used (“aftermarket”) rather than new car parts when carrying out repairs on their vehicles violated the terms of the company’s contracts with customers. State Farm lost the original 1999 case and was facing the prospect of a $1.06 billion judgement against it. The company appealed, which is obviously it’s right and a reasonable thing for it to do. What was not right and proper was for the company to attempt to fix the final result of that appeal.

With the case making its way toward the Illinois Supreme Court, State Farm allegedly poured money into the campaign of a candidate for chief justice who, once elected, provided the key vote to reverse the trial court’s decision. In 2005 “the court ruled that the nationwide plaintiff class was improperly certified… It also contended using aftermarket car parts was not a breach of State Farm policyholders contracts.”

Over a two-week period earlier this month five pedestrians were killed on Portland’s streets, an extraordinary number for such a short period of time. One other pedestrian and three motorists had also died in Portland during the first 10 weeks of 2018, according to The Oregonian.

The newspaper quoted the city’s transportation director describing the middle of March as “an awful two weeks,” but also said she “remains hopeful Portland is making progress on improving safety for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.” She added that the recent spate of deaths “doesn’t discourage us and the work that we’re trying to do.” The paper quoted a representative from a local advocacy group arguing that the deaths showed the need for greater, and faster, investment in safety infrastructure.

Indeed, there is a strong argument to be made that the recent pedestrian deaths in our city make Vision Zero and other safety programs even more important than ever. As I have written in earlier posts, Vision Zero is a program that strives to make the city safer for everyone, whether they are walking, riding a bike or driving a car or truck.

The exact details surrounding this week’s horrible train crash in Dupont, Washington, south of Seattle, are still being pieced together. If the media reports that have emerged this week are accurate, however, they paint a picture of an extremely reckless engineer. That, in turn, raises questions about the safety controls and background procedures which Amtrak has – or should have had – in place to prevent exactly this kind of accident.

According to The New York Times, investigators at the crash scene near Tacoma are “focusing on the possibility that the engineer was distracted by a cellphone, another person in his cab or something else when the train barreled into a curve 50 miles per hour over the posted speed limit.” The driver and other members of the train crew, all of whom are currently hospitalized, will also be tested for drug and alcohol use.

As numerous media accounts have noted in the days since the crash, this accident in many ways resembles another fatal Amtrak crash near Philadelphia in 2015. In that instance the train was also traveling much too quickly, leading it to jump the tracks. An investigation showed that the engineer, who died in the accident, had “lost situational awareness,” according to the Times. The combination of distraction and lack of familiarity with the train’s route is emerging as a focus of the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation. Monday’s crash took place during the inaugural run of a new Seattle-to-Portland passenger service and took place on a new portion of the route where tracks had recently been upgraded. The paper quotes a rail safety expert asking rhetorically whether the engineer driving Monday’s train was sufficiently familiar with the new portions of the route. “I’m sure there was some familiarization, but the question is, how familiar was he with it?”

A recent article in The Oregonian details a distressingly long list of safety and oversight failures at a single daycare center in Keizer leading to a number of injuries to children.

According to the newspaper the Iris Valley Learning Center “amassed one of the worst safety and health records in Oregon over a decade based on sheer volume of state rule violations… The state Office of Child Care tagged Iris Valley with 102 violations from 2007 through 2016.” This included eight instances of broken bones – “the largest number of fractures at any provider during that period.”

It is important to note that the instances cited by the paper are all forms of neglect – lack of proper supervision of children, inadequate staff numbers, an unsanitary kitchen – rather than abuse per se. This is important because while we often focus attention on physical abuse it needs to be understood that child neglect is also a serious offense under Oregon law. Second Degree Child Neglect is a Class A Misdemeanor. As defined in ORS 163.545 it includes any action that results in leaving “the child unattended in or at any place for such period of time as may be likely to endanger the health or welfare of such child.” (First Degree Child Neglect – ORS 163.547 – is a felony but is much more narrowly defined and mainly concerns drug offenses that take place in close proximity to children).

I have written on many occasions about the scandal surrounding the millions of defective airbags manufactured by the Takata Corporation. These “have been linked to at least 13 deaths worldwide and more than 100 injuries,” according to The New York Times. The recall of some 60 million vehicles equipped with this faulty safety equipment is an ongoing scandal of truly global proportions.

An editorial published earlier this month in The Times, however, is a jarring reminder of what happens when the public’s attention wanders and pressure for change wanes. According to the newspaper “just 8.4 million affected cars had been repaired as of May 20… Last year, the secretary of transportation, Anthony Foxx, said an estimated 20 percent of recalled cars are never repaired, and perhaps more.”

That would be bad enough. But, shockingly: “even now, four automakers – Fiat Chrysler, Toyota, Volkswagen and Mitsubishi – are selling new cars that contain the faulty airbags, according to a new report by Democrats on the Senate Commerce Committee. And Fiat Chrysler and Toyota have refused to disclose which of their models contain the devices,” according to The Times. As an Oregon dangerous products attorney I find this stunning.

John Oliver made a big splash last weekend by highlighting the unsettling, and ridiculously lightly-regulated, world of medical debt collection, but a much longer and more serious story published a few days earlier by NPR adds significant depth to reporting on this undercovered issue.

The NPR piece (linked below) details how non-profit hospitals across the country have abused their tax-free status to pursue poor Americans in court. When discussions about universal health care take place in this country it is stories like these that we need to focus on: people who are driven into bankruptcy or who do not get the health care they need because they lack the money to pay outrageous medical bills. That these people are being hounded in court by institutions that also enjoy tax-free status is simply unconscionable.

A search at ProPublica, the public interest journalism website, yields tax filings for dozens of non-profit hospitals here in Oregon. As Oregon Public Broadcasting recently noted, that tax status is predicated on the idea that hospitals which are not in business to turn a profit will do substantial charity work and forgive medical debt whenever it is practical. Yet as OPB documents, between 2014 and 2015 the funds devoted to charitable health care dropped by more than a third here in Oregon, despite the fact that during this time period Obamacare was bringing many more low income patients into our state’s hospitals.

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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