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Matthew D. Kaplan

The holiday season is drawing to a close. New Year’s Eve is here. But it is not too late for a reminder that, amid the celebrations, tonight and tomorrow will be especially dangerous times to be on Oregon and Washington’s roads and highways.

Police across the region will be stepping up enforcement, as they always do at this time of year. But activists, local organizations media and law enforcement have joined forces to offer area residents and visitors a variety of safe and affordable ways to help people celebrate, and return home, safely (see links below).

As KGW-TV notes on their website “TriMet officials say all public transportation will be free after 8pm. That includes the Portland Streetcar. MAX trains will run until 3am.” Bars throughout Old Town will be offering $20 taxi coupons. These will also be available from police officers and security guards patrolling in the Old Town area.

A recent CNN investigation highlights a problem that is both widespread and under-reported: the abuses that can arise when drug companies pay doctors to prescribe their medications. Though not widely known or appreciated this is a common practice in the medical and pharma industries. But, as CNN outlines, it can lead to life-threatening abuses.

As the story linked below documents one major pharmaceutical company paid “nearly 500 doctors to speak or consult on its drug, Nuedexta, between 2013 and 2016, according to government data.” According to CNN this raised two separate and equally serious issues.

First, the manufacturer was not particularly discriminating about who it paid to promote its drug. Among the doctors on the manufacturer’s payroll: one doctor who “had his prescription pad taken away after he repeatedly failed tests for his competency. Another was banned from treating mentally ill inmates and accused of endangering nursing home patients by prescribing excessive dosages of medications. At least three others had criminal convictions for illegal prescribing.”

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?”

The holidays are here. This is always a busy time of year, with parties, shopping and the numerous obligations we all have to friends and family. At such a hectic time it is especially important to keep safety – particularly child safety – in mind.

Regular readers will know that I have long been an enthusiastic supporter of SafeKids and the work it does here in Oregon and around the world. The organization has published a very useful guide to holiday safety (see link below), and I urge everyone to take a few minutes to look at it.

Few of the items on the SafeKids list are unique to the holiday season. The list focuses on things like ensuring that smaller children are in proper infant or booster seats and bigger kids are wearing their seat belts, remaining vigilant at all times when behind the wheel and, at home, placing hot foods on the stovetop’s rear burners to prevent spills caused by children reaching out.

Oregon has the 3rd-highest rate of alcohol-related deaths in the country: 22.2 per 100,000 persons, placing it behind only New Mexico and Wyoming. That statistic is worrying enough on its own, but it is even more disturbing to learn that “alcohol deaths in Oregon more than doubled between 1999 and 2015,” according to a recent article in The Oregonian.

The article focused on a newly-published study from the Trust for America’s Health. “Pain in the Nation” (see link below) lays out the alarming growth of alcohol, drugs and suicide as causes of death throughout the United States and offers detailed state-by-state breakdowns both of current data and of trends for the next decade. Usefully, it provides both an overall number for the three categories as well as detailed breakdowns of each. It reports that Oregon has the 10th highest death rate overall (i.e. from alcohol, drugs and suicide combined), but appears to have an especially severe problem where alcohol-related deaths are concerned. Washington fares somewhat better than Oregon, ranking 21st overall and having only the 10th highest rate of alcohol-related deaths. It is notable, however, that, as in Oregon, Washington’s alcohol-related death rate has increased dramatically over the last decade, rising by 37 percent.

The Oregonian’s report on the study quotes state health officials saying they are not surprised by the findings. The paper quotes from a 2014 state Health Department report which found both that binge drinking has risen markedly in recent years and that it is more widespread than many people think: “More young adults binge drink at least once each month… but the older adults who binge drink do so more often.”

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.

I first wrote about the barriers that arbitration clauses place in the way of Oregonians seeking justice nearly three years ago. Today, I am returning to the subject because it is important that readers in Oregon and Washington understand what the Congress has just done, how it effects their rights and what they may be able to do about it.

Last week the Senate joined the House in voting to reverse a rule issued last July by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). As described by the Reuters news agency the vote “killed a rule banning (financial) firms from using ‘forced arbitration’ clauses.”

As the news agency goes on to explain: “customers must agree to the clauses as a condition of opening accounts, saying they will take any disputes to closed-door arbitration instead of joining class-action lawsuits, where complainants band together to share litigation costs. The clauses are used for nearly every US consumer product and service since the Supreme Court ruled them legal in 2011.”

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.”

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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