A recent Oregonian article outlined a North Portland accident involving a 13-year-old girl that could easily have been prevented if local officials had paid more attention to the concerns of Portland parents. As the newspaper reports, the girl was struck by a car while crossing at the intersection of North Russell Street and Flint Avenue. “The girl suffered a leg injury and was taken to a hospital,” the paper reports.
What makes this story stand out is the fact that the unmarked crosswalk near Harriet Tubman Middle School has been identified by both Portland Bureau of Transportation officials and Portland school officials as a potential trouble spot – one that ought to have a marked crosswalk. The Oregonian reports local transportation officials had visited this very intersection only “a couple of weeks” before the accident. The paper quotes a spokesman for the Bureau of Transportation saying: “We believe it’s a good place for a marked crosswalk.”
As the newspaper notes, “in Oregon, every intersection is legally a crosswalk, even if there’s no paint on the asphalt.” That means the girl was crossing the street legally – and doing so in a place that had been flagged by area parents on several occasions since the Tubman school’s recent reopening.
“The city also installed speed bumps near Tubman on Flint, which draws hundreds of cars and cyclists during the morning and evening commutes. But Portland opted to wait to paint the crosswalk where the girl was eventually hit,” the paper writes.
It should not take incidents like this to get the bureaucracy focused on doing its job. As a Portland attorney who has long focused on injuries to children I would urge everyone with kids who walk or bike to school to take a look at the SafeKids Oregon pedestrian safety page (see link below). This organization, which I have long supported, offers excellent tips for young people and their parents on ways to avoid accidents like the recent one in North Portland.
According to The Oregonian, the driver involved in the incident did not leave the scene and cooperated with police. Those are good developments, but it is also important to understand the fact that the police chose not to issue a citation at the scene of the accident does not close the books on the incident. In the coming days and weeks it will be important for the victim’s family to look carefully at the circumstances of the incident and see whether it fits the legal definition of reckless driving as defined in ORS 811.140.
It is especially important to consider whether the school district should be held responsible for this accident. The facts cited above indicate not only that they were aware of the problem, but that an accident of exactly this type was foreseeable. That makes the failure to fix the problem especially troubling. Oregon’s courts first considered this question more than 30 years ago. Fazzolari v Portland School Dist. No 1 involved sexual assault rather than a traffic accident, but turned on essentially the same question: whether a school that knew it had a problem and failed to fix it is liable for harm caused when the problem recurs. In Fazzolari the case involved a school that had seen several female students abducted and assaulted on its grounds, but which failed to hire guards to protect them. Though the crimes are very different, the underlying question of school and school district responsibility is essentially the same.
In situations like this the law provides Oregonians with important tools that can be used to enforce accountability for reckless or negligent conduct. The more immediate question is whether our local officials will take this accident as a summons to action. It will be important for parents and other people concerned with the safety situation around Tubman Middle School to hold them to account.
SafeKids Oregon: Pedestrian Safety