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Friday, December 10, 2004

A streetcar named Liability

There's been quite a flap over the last couple of weeks about the $300,000 settlement that the City of Portland is going to pay a group of anti-war protesters who said (and I believe them) that they were wrongfully battered by Portland police during demonstrations. The city downplayed the settlements as small in amount and "routine" in nature. That, quite understandably, rankled civil libertarians, who don't like anyone trivializing incidents in which police pepper-sprayed people who were exercising their First Amendment rights.

An equally interesting wrinkle, however, was buried in lower paragraphs of a couple of the stories about the settlement: the City Council had authorized a payment of $87,500 to Andrea Andrews to settle her lawsuit stemming from the Portland Streetcar rear-ending her Volvo in December 2001. As explained by The Oregonian:

In the $87,500 settlement involving the streetcar, Andrea Andrews filed a lawsuit in December 2003 seeking more than $400,000 for noneconomic damages, medical expenses, time missed at work and lost business income.

According to her lawsuit, Andrews' 1987 Volvo station wagon was rear-ended on Dec. 27, 2001, by a trolley while she was stopped at a traffic signal at the intersection of Southwest 11th and Main Street. Andrews said she was preparing to make a right turn onto Main Street while waiting for a pedestrian to cross the street.

To me, this part of the story also raises a host of troubling questions.

Does this mean that we, the property taxpayers of Portland, are paying for the torts of the streetcar drivers? Isn't the streetcar in some sort of separate corporation? Doesn't that entity have insurance? Does this mean that the city taxpayer subsidy of the streetcar, which was pegged at $906,000 a year in the most recent stories I've read, should be increased to $993,500 for this year? How high will the subsidy go when the pending extensions of the streetcar are built?

And can you imagine the size of the bill that's going to be handed to the city's taxpayers when the OHSU aerial tram has its first accident?

Comments (5)

And to think it could have been reimbursement for a $5 copay: http://www.portlandmercury.com/current/city.html

Hopefully, though, the first tram accident will be gruesomely cool as far as accidents go - like maybe Homer Williams falling out of the tram, into a chimney in Liar Hill, and be burned alive. Like being thrown down a chute into the Shanghai Tunnels. We can only hope that if that happens, the cute tram girls will still ride...

Was the streetcar even open on 12/27/01? Are they instead talking about the "historic Trolley" that goes up to Council Crest?

We paid for the police actions (city service), I don't understand why paying for a bus driver would be any different. City Taxes, after all, paid for the train.

Matt said:
"Was the streetcar even open on 12/27/01? Are they instead talking about the "historic Trolley" that goes up to Council Crest?"

It was the streetcar. The streetcar opened on July 20, 2001. There is no trolley to Council Crest, the "historic" trolley runs between downtown and Lloyd center. It says "Council Crest" on it to pay homage to the trolley that went up to Council Crest until the 1950.

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