Sometimes it takes a tragedy to push the legal system to close a loophole. In the wake of a 2013 accident that left two little girls dead, Governor Kate Brown has done just that: signing a new law Thursday that clarifies the legal obligations of hit-and-run drivers.
“Anna and Abigail’s Law” is named in honor of 6 and 11-year old sisters from Forest Grove “who were struck as they played in a leaf pile” in 2013, according to an article in The Oregonian. It requires “drivers who suspect that they may have caused personal or property damage after a collision to report it to police.”
“Lawmakers pursued the change after the woman connected with felony hit-and-run in connection to the case… had her three-year probation overturned by the Oregon Court of Appeals,” according to the newspaper. At the time, Oregon law did not “require a driver to return to the scene of an accident if he or she learned someone was injured or killed after the fact. In granting (the) appeal the court also ruled there wasn’t enough evidence to establish without a reasonable doubt that (the driver) had reason to believe anyone was hurt after she ran over the leaf pile.”
There is probably a separate discussion to be had regarding whether three-years probation is the proper punishment for a hit-and-run accident that leaves two children dead. That, however, is where our civil court system comes into play in cases such as this. The move in the Oregon legislature to close this particular hit-and-run loophole is admirable and necessary, but it does little to address the immediate anguish of the families of the two little girls killed in the accident. It is important for families facing this kind of trauma to remember that a civil proceeding can sometimes enforce accountability in ways that the criminal courts cannot.
In a case such as this, for example, an Oregon lawyer with experience in injuries to children would probably recommend that the families consider an Oregon wrongful death action which also cited the state’s reckless and negligent driving statutes. Any careful and thorough investigation would also have to consider whether alcohol was involved in the incident or whether the driver was distracted as that term is defined in Oregon law (to be clear: the newspaper’s reporting does not indicate that any of these would have applied to this particular case).
It is unfortunate that it often takes a tragedy like this to focus attention on loopholes in our laws and to move legislators toward much-needed changes. Hopefully Anna and Abigail’s law will bring some small peace of mind to a family that has suffered so much.
ORS 811.140: Reckless driving
ORS 30.020: Action for Wrongful Death