A report this week in The Oregonian is a welcome example of our legal system at work. The account of the conviction of a reckless Oregon hit and run driver who caused a two-vehicle crash in Tualatin is a reminder that the justice system can and does work for victims and our broader society alike.
According to the newspaper the 24-year-old man was arrested for causing the crash in a parking lot adjacent to Martinazzi Avenue in Tualatin last January. “Witnesses told police a man in a pick-up was driving erratically and struck another vehicle,” The Oregonian writes. “The suspect’s vehicle then hopped a curb near the roundabout at Southwest Avery Avenue and 86th Street and struck a road sign. Witnesses also said the driver didn’t stop for a red light” and that while doing all of this he narrowly missed a pedestrian.
Once arrested the suspect was charged with DUII, hit-and-run and reckless driving. Now, five and a half months later, he has been convicted, and will serve time in jail, pay a fine and lose his driving license for three years. The man was initially eligible for a diversion program but lost that status, according to the newspaper, when he was arrested again in February.
It is worth mentioning, however, that criminal convictions like this, though satisfying the requirements of justice in many ways, do not prevent those who suffered from the man’s recklessness from pursuing claims against him in civil court. It is equally important to understand that responsibility for these events may not rest with the driver alone. Under Oregon’s dram shop laws a waiter or clerk who served the driver or sold him beer, wine or liquor when he was visibly intoxicated would also bear legal (as well as moral) responsibility for this accident. This responsibility becomes especially grave whenever someone is injured in Oregon DUII accidents of this type, so it is worth remembering the special protections our state’s dram shop laws offer in instances like this.
This distinction between criminal and civil accountability is an important one. As a Portland DUII victims’ attorney it is my job to make sure that Oregonians understand that when a reckless drivers’ accountability to society is enforced by the courts that procedure does not, in and of itself, undo the damage this person has caused. Enforcing this related, and equally important, type of accountability is the function of our civil courts and is just as important as the criminal accountability that the system demands from those who break the law by driving recklessly or while drunk.