The Associated Press reported earlier this month on a boy who died “after falling off a parade float on his seventh birthday.” The tragic event took place during the Miner’s Jubilee Parade in Baker City. The news agency says the boy “was struck by the rear wheels of a commercial vehicle” after falling from the float.
According to AP the authorities in Baker City are treating the event as an accident. But even if this tragedy was an accident that does not mean that no person or organization bears responsibility for what happened. Indeed, when a child is killed or injured all of us have a special obligation to investigate the circumstances to the fullest possible extent.
From a legal standpoint, this means looking at questions of health and safety in much the same way we might consider any other question of negligence leading to an injury or death. Special attention needs to be paid both to the organization of the parade and to the construction and operation of the float on which the child was riding.
Parades in Oregon are regulated mainly at the local level. In the case of Baker City, Chapter 73 of the Baker City Municipal Code deals with parades. The law’s focus, however, is solely on whether an event might “tend to a breach of the peace, cause damage or unreasonably interfere with the public use of the streets, or the peace and quiet of the inhabitants of the city.” There is no mention of safety, nor any specific safety requirements that someone planning to organize a parade must meet. One might argue that this, in itself, is negligent. Surely the city has a responsibility to ensure that parades on its streets are safe for the participants.
Similarly, the Standards of Operation for the parade itself address safety issues mainly in relation to the people driving the floats. “Each float must be of sound construction,” the registration document reads. It goes on to detail size limits, to require that “self-propelled” floats have towing hitches at both the front and the rear and to note that “brakes must be in good working order” and that “in case of emergency, driver and participants must have a quick exit.”
In other words, no part of the document addresses the safety of people, including children who might be riding atop the float – in many cases without safety restraints of any kind. When one compares this to the detailed regulations governing the transportation of children in cars the omission is shocking. The Oregon Department of Transportation (see link below) issues and enforces detailed regulations regarding infant seats, child seats, booster seats and vehicle safety in general. The idea that there are quite specific regulations about how a child can ride in a car, but no rule laying out the circumstances (age, vehicle speed, distance from the edge, requirements for a safety restraint or at least something to hold onto) under which a child can be standing atop a moving parade float is baffling.
As a Portland attorney with a practice focusing on injuries to children I view this as a situation where the local laws and regulations have failed to mandate the basic degree of safety we ought to expect at a public event. Obviously it is good that the city issues parade permits with the flow of traffic in mind and that the parade organizers are concerned that the vehicles involved are safe to operate. As the tragic events earlier this month demonstrate, however, these things are not enough by themselves.
Local authorities and event organizers have an obligation to ensure that parades and similar events are conducted in a safe way. If a child can fall from a float and then be run over be the very vehicle her was riding on (which is what appears to have happened here) something is clearly wrong with the safety standards applied by both local authorities and the event’s sponsors.
AP via The Oregonian: Oregon Boy Killed After Falling off Parade Float on Birthday
Oregon DOT – Safety Belts & Child Seats