A crash last week that, according to local TV station KOIN involved “the Portland streetcar and multiple vehicles which sent one person to the hospital… and shut down part of SE Grand Avenue” is bringing Oregon’s municipal liability laws into focus for many people.
KOIN reports that “three vehicles were wrecked in the crash, which also caused the streetcar to get knocked off its tracks. According to witnesses, a truck collided with the streetcar and then was pushed along by it – hitting two other cars, one of which was parked… Guardrails, streetlight and electric poles were also taken out by the streetcar. One of the poles involved cut power to A and B loops on the eastside.” The Oregonian reports that “the person injured was inside a car when it was hit by the streetcar. That person is expected to survive. There were 11 people on the streetcar, including the operator, and none was seriously injured.” One additional person from one of the autos went “to the hospital on their own accord.”
The first thing to be said about this is that we should all be happy that so few people were injured, relatively speaking. This is clearly one of those situations where things could have been much, much worse. That, however, does not change the fact that serious questions need to be asked – and potentially examined in court – about how the city got into this situation in the first place.
Because this incident involves the Portland Streetcar, however, it is slightly different in legal terms from an ordinary car or truck accident. Section 30.265 of Oregon’s legal code lays out quite specific definitions of the liability municipal officials are subject to in situations like this.
As ORS 30.265 states in its opening section: “every public body is subject to civil action for its torts and those of its officers, employees and agents acting within the scope of their employment or duties, whether arising out of a government or proprietary function or while operating a motor vehicle in a ridesharing arrangement.” This language obviously covers the Portland Streetcar (along with Tri-Met bus and light rail services).
In the weeks and months to come it will be important for both the city and our courts to examine this accident closely. As a Portland attorney with extensive experience dealing with car and truck accidents this is a case I will be watching closely. Public bodies such as the PBOT have a responsibility to protect their customers and keep them safe. The wider community has a responsibility to hold them accountable when that fails to be the case.
The Oregonian: 1 hurt after Portland Streetcar derails, hits 3 cars