Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

Lawsuits filed in Tennessee and South Carolina against a guardrail manufacturer whose products are used throughout the country are drawing attention to a potential hazard on highways nationwide. The different reactions of the states where the suits were filed, however, also requires our attention because of the potential legal issues it may create in the months and years to come.

According to a recent article in Claims Journal the lawsuits “accuse the Omaha, Nebraska based Lindsey Corporation of negligence in the design of X-LITE guardrails. Instead of telescoping to absorb impact when vehicles hit them, the guardrails pierced through vehicles, killing one woman and injuring another so severely she had to have a leg amputated, according to the complaints.”

Though Claims Journal reports that the company maintains “that their guardrails still meet federal guidelines” it’s obvious that Lindsey faces serious legal consequences for making and selling a product that many users now believe is defective. But the different responses from Tennessee and South Carolina also deserve our attention. According to Claims Journal “scrutiny of the guardrails has prompted Tennessee and other states to remove them from their roadways, but South Carolina transportation officials said they would leave the rails in place until they are damaged or outlive their lifespan.”

Considering the number of shocking stories that Oregon’s child care system has generated over the last few months one would think that reforming the system would be a priority for everyone involved. Yet as a recent report in The Oregonian details, pushback and outright obstruction on the part of the officials who manage the system is widespread and has continued for years.

Citing a new report by state auditors, the newspaper writes: “Officials as high-ranking as Gov. Kate Brown and former agency director Clyde Saiki repeatedly attempted to reform the system and pointed out key steps to do so, only to have agency leaders abandon those plans.” It goes on to quote the report, saying: “For over a decade, management’s response to crisis and scrutiny has been to reorganize the system, not to effectively plan to fix it.”

The auditor’s report reveals particular problems with the foster care system, according to the newspaper. This includes the striking acknowledgement that the Oregon child welfare “agency hasn’t been tracking its successes and failures in recruiting foster parents.”

In the wake of two Oregon day care deaths in as many months late last year one might have thought that it would be a simple thing to build momentum in the legislature for reform and increased oversight, but in politics things are rarely that simple.

Earlier this month The Oregonian reported that Governor Kate Brown’s initiative to “beef up oversight of day cares” was receiving a “tepid response” in Salem. The paper reports that “the proposal would increase maximum fines for rule-breaking day cares while closing a licensing loophole that can allow bad providers to escape consequences.” At an Oregon House hearing, however, “committee members questioned if the state’s bid to create 14 new positions would actually move the needle and help ensure kids are safe.”

When the legislature does not move as quickly as it should, it is worth remembering that even without changes to current law our courts offer powerful tools for protecting children and enforcing accountability. For example, ORS 163.545 is a relatively short statute defining second-degree child neglect. This is criminal law but when it is invoked it also opens the legal door to civil actions.

The death of a 28-year-old apprentice electrician at a Klamath Falls mill just before Thanksgiving was recently the subject of a long article in The Oregonian. It explored the victim’s life in detail and also considered the broader workplace safety issues this tragedy raises.

According to the newspaper the man’s death was “Oregon’s 68th workplace fatality of 2017.” State records (see link below) indicate that this number grew to 79 by the end of the year. The paper reports that after answering a call for an electrician late in his shift the man fell “through the lid and into an in-ground vat filled with corrosive liquid heated to 170 degrees, which is used to soften logs before they are processed into plywood.” Doctors say his death would have been instantaneous.

After the incident “the company… installed a railing around the roughly 30-foot long vat,” according to the newspaper, but one must ask why such a basic safety precaution was not in place already. As an apprentice electrician regulations required the man to be supervised in such a dangerous area or to have a supervisory waiver from the state. The paper reports that state records indicate there was no waiver in place. Questions should also be raised about the amount of time that passed before the man’s disappearance at work was reported to the police.

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?”

Last week it was announced that the family of “a mentally ill inmate in Oregon will receive $2.85 million to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit that alleged the man died of dehydration and starvation after jail staff failed to get him medical treatment during a depressive episode,” according to a report by the Associated Press that was reposted on the website of US News & World Report.

Last August I wrote about a situation in California that has certain similarities to this one. That case resulted in a $5 million settlement. While it is good to see justice done in both of these cases the fact that in both instances it took a human being’s death for prison officials belatedly to acknowledge their duties is a sorry commentary on the state of care in our prisons and mental institutions.

The California case involved a man suffering from schizophrenia. The case here in Oregon focused on a night in April 2015 when a bipolar man was found dead “after refusing to eat, drink or take medication.” According to the AP, shift logs from the Lincoln County, Oregon jail showed that the inmate had exhibited disturbing behavior “for days.” He “dunked his bedding and clothing in his toilet” soiled his cell, “spit out his food and splashed water around his cell until deputies shut off the water,” the news agency reports, citing court papers filed with a federal court in Eugene.

For the second time in as many months an infant has died in an Oregon day care facility. More shockingly, this latest tragedy took place “at a Southwest Portland day care previously cited three times for illegally watching children without a license,” The Oregonian reports.

As I detailed in a blog post last month, the earlier death took place in Portland and involved a 10-month-old boy. In that instance, it was the second infant death in the facility in as many years. The incident led state authorities to close the day care center, but left significant questions unanswered. Notably: how had the facility remained open after the first death?

In this instance many of the same questions need to be asked, perhaps even more urgently. The victim at the Southwest Portland facility was not-quite five months old. The Oregonian reports that “police are awaiting results of an autopsy and toxicology report, which could take several months” but the more immediate question is how a care facility with three pervious citations for operating illegally could still be in business in the first place. According to the newspaper, all three of the citations for illegal operation were issued in the last 10 months.

The death of a 13-year-old girl last week in southern Oregon’s Jackson County should prompt a broader discussion about how we keep children safe as they wait for school buses, especially in rural areas.

As detailed by The Oregonian, the girl was waiting for the school bus at the end of her family’s driveway “on a rural Jackson County road… when she was struck by a passing vehicle, something attached to it or the vehicle’s load.” A search is on for the driver, whom police say may not have even been aware of having struck the child. The fact that so many questions remain unanswered about how the girl was hit, and even at a more basic level what hit her, indicates that law enforcement and school officials still have much work to do. But those essential tasks should not cause police, school officials and the wider community to miss addressing another critical question raised by this child’s death: was standing at the end of her driveway a safe and well-thought-out way for her to be waiting for a ride to school?

In an era of near-constant educational cutbacks we should start by asking whether it was really necessary to have a lone girl standing where her family’s driveway met the road? Was this the only way for the bus to pick her up, or was it just the most efficient way to plan the bus driver’s route? When those bus routes were planned how much thought was given to student safety? As winter approaches and the days continue to get shorter this is a particularly pressing question. According to The Oregonian last week’s fatal accident took place before 7:30 am (the time at which the child’s body was discovered by a passer-by). Over the next four months it will not be unusual for children to be waiting for their school buses in the dark or in half-light and for them to be walking home from their bus stops in the afternoon dusk. Such considerations need to be at the forefront of route planning, and cannot merely be an afterthought.

The Oregonian reports that state officials are moving to close the a Portland day care center after a child died at the facility. What makes this incident particularly distressing is the news that this is the second Oregon child death at the center in 18 months.

The newspaper reports that police have not disclosed the circumstances of the fatality, and that the medical examiner is still conducting an investigation. The paper adds, however, that “state regulators immediately suspended all childcare at the facility… concluding that circumstances there presented ‘a serious danger.’”

The paper notes that “Oregon has recorded eight deaths at licensed day cares since 2007, according to the Office of Child Care. With more than 4000 facilities in the state, there have never been two deaths at the same location, the child care office said.” The newspaper quotes an official from the office describing the situation as “unprecedented.”

Families of the people killed and injured in a terrible accident almost exactly a year ago may soon take a first step toward justice with the announcement of an arrest in the case. According to television station KABC “the driver of a big-rig who allegedly caused a passenger bus crash that killed 13 people in 2016 near Palm Springs has been arrested in Georgia.”

As coverage of the accident in USA Today details, the driver “stopped for traffic in the far-right lane of Interstate 10 on October 23, 2016, and dozed off, authorities say. While (he) was sleeping, traffic began moving again, but his vehicle continued to block the westbound lane.” A tour bus hit the stopped semi-truck at a speed of 76 miles per hour the paper reports, citing court filings. The driver now faces “13 counts of felony manslaughter with gross negligence… 11 counts of felony reckless driving with injury and 18 counts of misdemeanor reckless driving with injury.”

Chillingly, USA Today adds: “Charging documents indicate he (the truck driver) has continued to work as a bus driver since the crash.” The paper also notes that the driver “violated federal regulations for truck drivers and falsified his driver’s log.” He had reportedly only had seven hours of “sleep opportunity” during the 24 hours preceding the crash, and “it is unlikely that he actually slept during those opportunities.”

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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