Oregon Injury Attorney Reference

Traffic Control Devices

The Oregon Traffic Control Devices Committee (OTCDC) is an advisory group to the state, cities, and counties in Oregon regarding traffic management issues.  The committee meets to discuss policy, programs, and procedures as they affect state and local governments.  The OTCDC meets every other month to exchange thoughts, ideas and practices that will act as a source of guidance and advice for the future (regarding traffic related activities).

The need for the committee was based upon the following facts: (1) traffic control devices which are applicable to state highways do not necessarily apply to city and traffic control problems and; (2) the committee would provide a communication link between local government and the state on technical traffic issues.  In the meantime, established statutes and case-law decisions govern.

Therefore, in this section, we shall briefly examine eight interrelated issues about traffic control devices in Oregon.  These issues are: (1) the definition of a traffic control device; (2) the statutory structure of Oregon law governing traffic control devices; (3) their placement; (4) the failure to obey traffic control devices; (5) exceptions for failing to obey traffic signals; (6) examples of reasonable and unreasonable responses in emergency situations; (7) one-way traffic designations and; (8) the malfunctioning traffic lights due to the negligence of city employees.

Definitions in Law and Statute

Oregon’s traffic signs, signals, and pavement markings follow the national standards.  Signs often use easily recognized symbols or pictures, rather than words.  You must obey all official highway signs, signals, and markings—unless you see a police officer or a road worker redirecting traffic.

Each type of sign has a special color to help you recognize the sign at a glance.  In addition to the color, the shape of the traffic sign also helps you identify the sigh and what you must do to obey it.  In poor visibility conditions, such as heavy fog, you may be able to make out only the shape of the sign.  Therefore, it is important for drivers to know both the colors and shapes of highway signs.  The legal definitions are as follows:

(1) Any sign, signal, marking or device which is placed, operated, or erected by the authority granted under ORS 810.210 for the purpose of guiding, directing, warning, or regulating traffic; (2) Any device that remotely controls by electrical, electronic sound or light the operation of any vehicle that is identified in ORS 810.210; (3) Any stop sign that complies with specifications adopted under ORS 810.200 that is held or erected by a member of a highway maintenance or construction crew working in the highway.  ORS 810.200 defines uniform standards for traffic control devices; (4) ORS 811.260 describes appropriate driver responses to traffic control devices; (5) ORS 811.255 outlines four specific exceptions to the rule to heed a traffic control device; (6) ORS 811.260 contains a list of 12-devices and signals–along with a description of what a driver’s response should be to them.  You can also find them discussed in the Oregon Driver Manual.

Oregon Statutes Governing Traffic Control Devices

The key sections of Oregon’s statutory scheme for the governance of traffic control devices are: (1) ORS 810.210—Placement and control of traffic control devices; (2) ORS 810. 250—Use of traffic control device placement or legibility as evidence; (3) ORS 811.260—Appropriate driver responses to traffic control devices; (4) ORS 811.265—Driver failure to obey traffic control device; (5) ORS 811.270—Failure to obey one-way designation.

The Placement of Traffic Control Devices

The Oregon Transportation Commission is vested with exclusive jurisdiction over the installation at railroad-highway grade crossing of signs, traffic signals, gates, protective devices or any other device to warn or protect the public at a railroad-highway crossing.  The commission is granted exclusive authority under ORS 810.210 to determine the character or type of device to be used.  Further, all traffic control devices erected and used under ORS.810.210 shall conform to the specifications established under ORS 810.200—which specifies the uniform standards for traffic control devices.

The Failure to Obey Traffic Control Devices

ORS 811.265 makes it clear that: (1) A person commits the offense of driver failure to obey a traffic control device if the person drives a vehicle and does one of the following: (a) Fails to obey the directions of any traffic control device; (b) Fails to obey any specific traffic control device described in ORS 811.260 in the manner required by that section.  In this matter, there are some exceptions.

Exceptions for Failing to Obey Traffic Control Devices

ORS 811.265 outlines four exceptions to the rule: (1) Following the directions of a police officer; (2) Driving an emergency vehicle or ambulance in accordance with the privileges granted to those vehicles under ORS 820.300; (3) Properly executing a turn on a red light as authorized under 811.360—when a vehicle turn is permitted at a stop light; (4) Driving in a funeral procession led by a funeral lead vehicle or under the direction of the driver of a funeral escort vehicle.

Examples of Exceptions

There are two key cases which present legal exceptions for failing to obey traffic control devices.  One case involves acting reasonably or unreasonably in an emergency situation.  The other case involves the proper and/or improper position of a traffic control device.

Example #1:  What is Reasonable in an Emergency? — Oregon courts have held that the presence of an emergency does not change the standard of care.  Rather, the standard of care remains one of reasonable care under the circumstances.  So, if a driver acts unreasonably in the face of an emergency, he/she is negligent.  However, if he/she acts reasonably they are not negligent.  Therefore, it is important to remember that an emergency is simply one of the circumstances to consider in judging whether a driver behaved reasonably under the circumstances [Barnum v. Williams, 264 Ore. 71 (1972)].  In short, the violation of a motor vehicle statute creates a presumption of negligence.  Hence, a person who violates the statute has the burden of producing evidence that he/she was “acting reasonably.”  Without any such evidence, a person who violates the statute is negligent as a matter of law.

Example #2:  Location, Location, Location — The Proper Positioning of a Traffic Control Device:  ORS 810.250(1) begins by declaring that “a person shall not be convicted of” violating ORS 811.265 “if the device is not in the proper position” [ORS 810.250(1)].  It is a statute that describes an “affirmative defense” that a defendant must prove to prevail.  In State v. Boly, 210 Or App 132 (2006), the court held that the proper positioning of a traffic control device is not an element of the offense under this section, but it is a fact that the defendant/driver is entitled to challenge by means of an affirmative defense.  The improper positioning of a traffic control device can be used as a defense to the charge of negligence.  So, location, location, location is an important factor in deciding whether or not there has been a violation of the law.

One-Way Traffic Control Signals

ORS 811.270 states that: “A person who commits the offense of failure to obey a one-way designation if the person is operating a vehicle and the person proceeds upon a roadway designated for one-way traffic in a direction other than that indicated by a traffic control device.”  Yet, Oregon courts have also said that while the violation of a motor vehicle statute creates a presumption of negligence it is also possible for a driver to present evidence that they were acting reasonably—and were not negligent.  However, without evidence that the driver was acting reasonably under the circumstances, then that driver is negligent as a matter of law” [Barnum v. Williams, 264, Ore. 71, 79 (1972)].

Example:  The Reasonably Prudent Person that Violates a Statute:  The court in Barnum held that all courts and juries should look at the facts in deciding whether or not a party was “acting as a reasonably prudent person under the circumstances.”  The Barnum court clearly stated that: “We so hold regardless of whether the circumstances do or do not include facts which the law regards as an emergency.”  In reaching this conclusion, the Barnum court addressed those situations in which one of the drivers wound up the wrong side of the road.  As far back as 1957, courts in Oregon have said that: “…the statute is not considered violated in instances when the driver, acting as a reasonably prudent person, turns to the left to avoid a collision with an approaching vehicle traveling in the wrong lane” [Gum, Adm. v. Wooge, 211 Or 149, 158, (1957)].

Malfunctioning Traffic Lights

A municipality may be held liable for a malfunctioning traffic light if a vehicle operator, after waiting a considerable time, proceeds against a malfunctioning red light and collides with another vehicle [Menke v. Bruce, 88 OR App, 107, 111-112 (1987)].  The opinion in Menke does not, however, stand for the proposition that a driver may ignore a malfunctioning traffic light.  The facts in Menke revealed that an employee of the municipality failed to throw a switch that would have moved the signal from its “locked” condition and put it in a “four-way flash” mode.

Statutory Obligations Under The Basic Speed Rule

auto-accident-speedThe “basic speed rule” prohibits vehicle operators from driving on a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent.  It also prohibits having disregard for traffic, weather, visibility, the nature of the highway, and other existing conditions.  All of these factors are equally important in evaluating whether a driver has met his/her statutory obligations under the “basic speed rule.”  Taking all of these factors into account, the Oregon Vehicle Code specifically designates speed limits for their importance in determining whether there is clear evidence of a violation of the “basic speed rule.”  It is for this reason that the customary practice of other drivers does not justify speeds higher than those that are posted.

With regard to speeding through a school zone, for example, it was not the intention of the legislature to let each community establish its own policy with respect to the speed limit in a school zone when such  determination would be based solely on the driving habit of the motorists in that particular community.  Oregon courts have explained why a community-based standard is not legally sufficient.  In a leading case on the subject, the court noted: “There are too many circumstances which vary from time to time with regard to what is done in one instance as a measure of what should be done in another instance.  Conditions of the street, visibility, the time of day, the number of children, and many other factors determine the kind of vigilance that is required of the motorist.”

Going Too Slow

Speed issues are also addressed in Oregon’s statutory scheme by making it unlawful for a driver to block or impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic.  Such conduct is excused only in rare situations—as when a vehicle may have to stop to allow oncoming traffic to pass before making a turn.  This situation would be an example of a speed needed for the safe operation of a vehicle.  However, driving slower than is reasonable may lead to a rear end collision.

Going Too Fast and Furious

Speed racing is not allowed on Oregon roads.  Therefore, Oregon’s statutory scheme prohibits a driver from participating in certain contests involving a vehicle on the highway.  The question as to whether a driver has violated the “basic speed rule” may be a finding of “negligence per se.”  The resolution of that issue involves a finding of whether the defendant was acting as a “reasonably prudent person” under the circumstances.  So, this issue becomes a jury question.  In most cases, the fundamental question to be resolved all boils down to a determination of whether or not the driver acted reasonably—even in light of the violation of the basic speed rule.

How to Keep Your Legal Assistant Happy, Part 3

This is the final post in our short series on fostering great relations with your Legal Assistant. Again, we will be incorporating more information into the Dwyer Williams Dretke PC blog to help make it a great resource for new and prospective personal injury lawyers, so check back soon for more professional development posts!

“How to keep your legal secretary happy, part 1” suggested that you provide them with:

  • All incoming mail
  • Concise directions, and
  • Clear project parameters

“How to keep your legal secretary happy, part 2” suggested that you also provide:

  • An open-door policy for asking questions
  • Lists of what they can anticipate to happen on each case if/ when attorneys are out of the office
  • Streamlined phone call protocol

Three Final Ways to Keep Your Legal Assistant Happy

Here are the final three suggestions that our support staff have provided for how we can keep them happier in the workplace, which we want to share with you:

  1. Attorney Whereabouts
    According to our support staff, having this information on hand at all times is essential! The legal assistants are in large part expected to handle a majority of the clients and contact people including but not limited to insurance company representatives, court officials, medical providers, and other attorneys.  It is very difficult to manage these relationships when one is uninformed about attorneys’ locations and expected time back in the office. As with many of our other suggestions, adequate and clear communication with your legal assistant is key here.
  2. True, Uninterrupted Breaks During the Day
    Even if support staff remain in the office for lunch and other breaks, their personal time should be respected and not interrupted unless such interruption is for a true emergency.
  3. T/C’s and Files
    At the time of this poll, we all agreed that it would be a very good idea if the attorneys were given client/ matter files before taking phone calls.  This way, attorneys won’t be talking off of the tops of their heads about case facts, court procedure, or anything else. With files in hand, the attorneys can avoid undue and burdensome work down the road that could easily have been avoided.

We hope that you have gotten something out of this series. Again, we will be sharing more advice like this in the future on our blog as well as on our social media channels.  Subscribe to our RSS feed to get blog posts emailed directly to your inbox, or check us out online on Google+, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Happy Monday and have a great week!

How to Keep Your Legal Assistant Happy, Part 2

Last week we announced that we will be incorporating more information into the Dwyer Williams Dretke PC blog to help make it a great resource for new and prospective personal injury lawyers.

Our first such blog series is about fostering great relations with your Legal Assistant, and our first post in this series suggested that you start to “keep your legal secretary happy” by providing them with:

  • All Incoming Mail
  • Concise Directions, and
  • Clear Project Parameters

Three More Ways to Keep Your Legal Assistant Happy

We polled the legal secretaries in our office and came up a list of nine top areas in which we personal injury lawyers can help empower our assistants and keep them happy in the office.  Here are the fourth through sixth agreed-upon suggestions:

  1. An Open-Door Policy
    Our legal assistants agreed that they would collectively appreciate a more open-door policy for asking questions of their attorneys.  Our support staff felt that some attorneys, who make it clear that they do not appreciate interruption, create a chilling effect on their support staff asking questions.  Legal Assistants need to be able to ask questions of their attorneys without fear of chastisement or reprisal.
  2. Attorney Lists
    If attorneys are out of the office for an extended period of time (3 or more work days), support staff suggested that it would be very helpful for attorneys to provide them with lists of what they anticipate to happen on any given case during their absence.  Statements as simple as “Smith case – waiting for Answer to Complain before sending out Request for Production” or “Black case – waiting for phone call from Dr. Joe before deciding to take the case” would provide Legal Secretaries with a status awaiting their attorneys’ return.  It was also unanimously agreed that it would be helpful for attorneys to leave lists of what they expect their Secretairs to do on any given case or matter while the attorney is out of the office.
  3. Phone Calls
    When asking Legal Assistants to make phone calls for you, our support staff suggests that you develop and utilize some sort of tracking system for streamlining what can otherwise become a time-consuming and frustrating task.  Your assistant needs to know Who to call, When to call them, and What the call is about.

Check back later this week to read our final post in this series.  Remember, also, thatwe will be sharing more advice like this in the future.  From our office to yours!

How to Keep Your Legal Assistant Happy, Part 1

We at Dwyer Williams Dretke PC would like to be more helpful as a resource for new and prospective personal injury lawyers. With this goal in mind, we have decided to incorporate professional advice into our blog, starting today with a series on how to foster great relations with, quite possibly, the most important person in your office: your Legal Assistant or Secretary.

How to Keep Your Legal Assistant Happy

We polled the legal secretaries in our office and came up a list of nine top areas in which we personal injury lawyers can help empower our assistants and keep them happy in the office.  Here are our first three suggestions:

  1. Mail
    Legal secretaries should see all incoming mail.  Even if they do not have much time to absorb and process the mail, that brief exposure will help keep your assistant aware of what is currently happening in a case: of which parties are asking questions and of what documents are coming in.
  2. Job Directions
    Support staff need to be given clear, ideally concise, directions based on their attorneys’ needs and the purpose of the request.  Our support staff suggested that it could make a huge difference for attorneys to take a few minutes to explain the context and importance of each assignment that they bring their secretaries.  Communication breakdowns are frustrating for support staff and attorneys alike, but luckily the confusion and resentment that accompany communication breakdowns can be avoided by proactive project explanations.
  3. Parameters
    Many of our support staff felt that clear job assignment parameters would help reduce their stress at work.  When completing client’s initial interview forms, for example, can your legal secretary call a client back to seek more information without infringing on what the attorney had in mind?  Don’t be shy about setting these boundaries with your assistant: clarification will allows him/her to grasp the scope of the job.

Check back soon to read the next post in this series and remember that we will be sharing more advice like this in the future.  From our office to yours!