Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

As we mentioned earlier this month, losing a loved one due to the negligence of someone with whom you entrusted them is an indescribably painful thing. As you and your family cope with the massive personal loss, there are still the legal ramifications and the financial loss your family has suffered as well. As you and your family work to heal, look to an experienced Oregon wrongful death lawyer to handle all of your litigation needs.

A skillful injury attorney is vitally important for many reasons. One of the biggest is advice and counsel about the many crucial decisions you’ll have to make throughout the process. For example… should you settle or continue litigating? Should you pursue your case in state court or federal court?

Once you’ve made a state-versus-federal court choice, an experienced attorney can fight to keep your wrongful death case in that court.

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Statistics show that the water can be a dangerous place for children… even older ones. A few years ago, a study placed drowning as the third-leading cause of death among teens ages 15-17. More recently, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control declared that, for “children ages 1–14, drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death after motor vehicle crashes.” If that kind of horrible loss occurs due to the carelessness of adults or businesses, then those people and entities should be held to account. A knowledgeable Oregon wrongful death lawyer can offer essential advice and representation in doing just that.

A few months ago, The Oregonian again covered the story of the tragic 2019 drowning death of a 14-year-old high-school swimmer in Hillsboro. This most recent coverage dealt with the family’s wrongful death lawsuit. The lawsuit, filed in circuit court here in Portland, alleged failures by many people and groups, including the school district, the city of Hillsboro, and the manufacturer of the pool’s cover.

The lawsuit indicated that, on the day of the girl’s death, her team’s coach instructed her and some teammates to grab a pool cover, swim with it to the deep end of the pool, then swim back to the shallow end while beneath the cover.

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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.

The February death of a worker at a winery in Dundee, Oregon has resulted in a fine of more than $11,000 being levied by the state Occupational Safety and Health Agency. An OSHA statement issued late last week offered the basic facts of the case, but also left several key questions open.

According to media reports, the victim was a 39-year-old McMinnville man employed as a cellar worker at Corus Estates & Vineyards. The OSHA statement details how the man suffocated and then fell into a 30,000 gallon wine tank as he was moving a portion of the wine from that tank to another. Servicing the tank involved going into a confined space where “low-pressure nitrogen gas was being pumped in from the top of the tank to prevent oxidation of the remnants,” the agency statement explains. “The employee was asphyxiated as a result of the displacement of oxygen due to the low-pressure nitrogen gas in the tank.” After falling in, the worker was found unresponsive.

The total fine of $11,100 was broken down into several parts by the agency, and the details of those elements makes interesting reading. By far the largest portion of the fine – $7500 – was assessed for failing to test the air in the space around the tank before the job got underway and failing to have an attendant and an entry supervisor monitor the work, as required by law. Separate fines of $1200 each were imposed for failures to review and practice safety and rescue procedures, failure to properly renew the required permits and failures of employee training, including not offering safety information in Spanish.

Regular readers of this blog will remember that I have repeatedly highlighted the fact that contracting out prison services to private companies often leads to tragic results. This is especially true when medical services are among the key government responsibilities put out for bidding.

Case law at both the federal and state levels is clear: when the government takes away someone’s freedom it also assumes responsibility for their well-being. Prisoners may not be a popular constituency among politicians, but that does absolve government of its legal and moral duty to offer adequate care for the people it locks up.

The latest example of this trend can be found in Maine. A recent article on the website of Maine Public Broadcasting outlines a lawsuit brought by “the NAACP’s Maine State Prison chapter… raising allegations of inadequate prison healthcare services. In a report that details the stories of anonymous residents, they allege that heart conditions, infections, diabetes and other serious conditions are being neglected or misdiagnosed by prison healthcare provider, Wellpath LLC.”

If you ask a friend to name a dangerous occupation most people would think first of logging, firefighting or, perhaps, law enforcement. But near the top of nearly any list of dangerous jobs is something few of us think about: working in a poultry plant.

That fact was highlighted by a recent incident in Georgia. According to a report in the New York Times, six people died and 11 were injured late last month when “a line carrying liquid nitrogen ruptured.” One of the injured people who required hospitalization was a firefighter responding to the incident.

Union officials accused the plant’s owners of negligence and of ignoring health and safety protocols. According to the newspaper, in 2015 the plant “was fined more than $100,000 for about a dozen safety violations.” Another $40,000 in fines followed the next year and “in 2017, two employees underwent amputations, including one of two fingers after his left hand got caught in machinery that he was cleaning.”

I have used this space more than once to focus on healthcare and prisons, with a particular emphasis on Wellpath. The Tennessee-based company touts itself as “the premier provider of localized, high-quality compassionate care to vulnerable patients in challenging clinical environments.” In plain English, that means they are a for-profit company that provides medical care in jails and prisons nationwide.

As I noted in a post last October, Wellpath is frequently sued for being deliberately indifferent to their patient/inmate’s constitutional right to adequate medical care. A California newspaper reported last year that since 2003 Wellpath has been sued “at least 1,395 times in federal court.” Wrongful death actions figured prominently in this tally.

Recent news from both the east and west coasts has highlighted WellPath’s approach to the COVID-19 pandemic. That news also raises, yet again, questions about whether the company does everything it should to care for the people placed in its charge.

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).

Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has levied $31,000 in fines on two contractors whose irresponsible conduct led to the deaths of two workers at a music festival in Happy Valley in the summer of 2019, according to The Oregonian.

The paper reports that the two men “were up in a boom lift taking down a shade installation (when) the lift, which was on an incline, tilted and fell.” Both were wearing safety gear, the paper reports, but that did little to help them considering the shockingly long list of standard precautions that their employers failed to take.

“OSHA said two alarm devices on the boom lift had been disabled, one of which would have alerted users that the machine was on uneven terrain. The other would have stopped the platform from moving upward if an employee became pinned between the platform and something overhead. Each company was fined $12,000 for disabling the alarms,” according to the newspaper. One of the two companies was given an additional fine “for not following the instructions provided by the boom lift manufacturer – including not raising the lift while on an uneven surface, maintaining a firm footing on the platform’s floor at all times and not putting the lift in a raised position while the counterweight, used for balance, was on the downward side of the slope.”

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).

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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