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Dirt pile collision costs homeowners $50,000 in settlement

Posted by on February 4th, 2010 at 10:16 am

According to a story in The Oregonian, Joe and Hau Hagedorn have settled a lawsuit brought against them when a man on a bicycle crashed into a dirt pile left out in front of their house. The pile-up happened at around 2:00 am in July of 2007 on SE 20th just south of Division.

From The Oregonian, here’s what happened:

“Jeremy Hooton was pedaling in the dark along 21st Avenue near Division Street at 2 a.m. when he hit the pile, causing him to fly over his handlebars and slam into the street, according to his Multnomah County Circuit Court complaint.”

Hooton’s lawsuit claims he sustained several injuries — including broken facial bones — and he sought $575,000 from the Hagedorns. The two parties settled the case and the Hagedorns agreed to pay $50,000 for Hooten’s medical bills (you might recall the Hagedorns from the profile we published on them back in December).

Joe Hagedorn, a public defender with Multnomah County, told me back in January 2009 that they didn’t hear about the incident until being contacted by Hooton’s attorney six months after it happened. “Because Hau and I didn’t know anything about what happened, we know almost zero about what really happened that night — whether there was a dirt pile, how big it was, where it was located, etc…”

Dirt piles are very common on Portland streets, especially in spring and summer as folks plant their veggies and gardens. Here’s the relevant Portland City Code to keep in mind:

    16.70.810 Street Obstructions and Dangerous Conditions.

    No person, whether acting as private citizen, principal, employee or agent shall:

    A. Between the hours of sunset and sunrise, place or allow to remain on any street any obstruction, other than a lawfully parked vehicle or any permitted structure, unless a clearly displayed warning light or lights are:

    1. plainly visible for 200 feet in either direction parallel to the street and at least 25 feet in all other directions, and

    2. placed on the edge or side of the obstruction nearest the center of the street.

    B. At any time, create a dangerous condition on any street without erecting and maintaining a distinctly visible barricade which provides a clear indication of the danger and directs people safely around it; and/or

    C. Remove such a barricade from any street while the danger continues.

This spring, when you get that pile of dirt dumped in front of your house, keep this ordinance — and Mr. Wooton’s lawsuit — in mind.

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  • maxadders February 4, 2010 at 10:28 am

    Perhaps this will raise awareness. I’ve actually run into a dirt pile myself– luckily I was going slow and the pile was soft topsoil. Still, my front wheel sunk in immediately and I almost went over the handlebars.

    Even a well-charged 1 watt LED headlight couldn’t do much to illuminate the pile, which was, as I mentioned above, dark, moist topsoil.

    Though these piles may be at the edge of the street normally used by parked vehicles, many of Portland’s residential streets are so narrow that cars and bikes alike often travel close to the edge to accommodate oncoming traffic. Keeping these piles off the street is a good idea.

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  • Nick February 4, 2010 at 10:28 am

    Whaaaa?!?!

    He/she brought them to court? OK man. Whatever.

    At 2AM, it’s rider beware in my book. I rarely have the luxury to have optimal roads at any time of day. At 2AM or any time at night I ride with extra caution for many reasons. Crud on the road, natural or man-made, is just part of the deal.

    ~n

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  • are February 4, 2010 at 10:41 am

    re nick comment 2, obviously the homeowner and/or their insurance company made a different evaluation of the situation than you did.

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  • Brad February 4, 2010 at 10:48 am

    What was this n’er do well (probably on a fixie!) doing on roads built for cars with headlights at 2:00 AM? I demand to see the blood toxicology results!

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  • Anonymous February 4, 2010 at 11:14 am

    are-

    Yes, but then again it is hard to defend yourself when you do not have all of the facts. I am assuming there was no police report filed at the time of the accident.

    6 months after the incident they are made aware?! Was the rider using a light? Was alcohol involved?

    If the rider had been drinking and had no front light, would you say he deserves $50k? My guess is that had he been driving a car w/o lights and had been drinking you would say no.

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  • Bjorn February 4, 2010 at 11:28 am

    Dark dirt piles against black pavement can be hard to see even with a light, that is why they are illegal…

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  • phil February 4, 2010 at 11:54 am

    Better judgement probably would’ve kept him from busting his face on the pavement after hitting the pile. But the law clearly states that the homeowner was in violation. Better to wreck on the pile and get $50K than a curb for nothing!!

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  • Brad February 4, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    This is an outrage! Where is the city? All of this “Build It!” advocacy yet no plans to illuminate all city streets to the approximate lumen level of Noon on a sunny summer day.

    The homeowner? They should have been required to mark this horrible hazard to cyclists with a line of flares and Dan Henrys every 200 yards alerting the pedaling public to this possibly fatal transgression against humanity!!! They should have been forced to settle for millions and lose their house.

    Platinum? LOL!

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  • wsbob February 4, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    At least the person responsible for the dirt pile was someone that knew the law and is likely sympathetic to the dangers people riding bikes on the street face. I wonder if the injured party was able to get any photos of the pile at some point, before it was hauled off.

    Without some kind of proof like that, it seems possible to me that some homeowners, presented with a lawsuit six months after the fact, just might be inclined to deny there ever was a dirt pile, or if they do concede there was one, that it was where the injured person said it was…etc., etc., etc.

    I like to think the injured person was legit…that he wasn’t drunk, stoned or otherwise impaired to the extent he couldn’t competently ride a bike down the street at night, because I know I don’t want take a little trip like he did over an unmarked pile of dirt someone has left out on the street.

    Seems certain that homeowners are going to pay attention to this story and will be talking about it with their neighbors.

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  • Anonymous February 4, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    Bjorn-

    The pavement on my street (and on most Portland residential streets including SE 20th) is light grey, not black. Of course people may have different ideas of what is black. I also know there are street lights on SE 20th Do the Hagedorn’s have one in their yard, directly above the dirt pile completely illuminating it?

    Dirt piles are not illegal, but they do need to be marked.

    I am not defending the Hagedorn family. I just am curious to know the facts of the story.

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  • SE Cyclist February 4, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    What is the difference between a pile of dirt and the piles of leaves that homeowners dump in the streets every fall?The City refuses to do anything with regard to enforcement or even discouraging the latter.

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  • redhippie February 4, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    Lawyer gets sued, and looses. Poetic justice?

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  • Joe Adamski February 4, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    SE Cyclist.. I agree that leaves piled on the side of a street present a significant hazard. I would also bet a pile of dirt is a much greater hazard if you hit it. I was cited by the City nuisance inspector last summer for a pile of dirt I left in the street. Miffed at first, I see why I was cited and agree with it.
    Why do leaves not get the same attention? Probably because they are naturally occuring. Possibly because the City staff lacks sufficient workers to go after everyone who leaves unsafe things on the side of the street, including unlit trailers, junk cars,old furniture,whatever. Perhaps because it has been not enforced for so long, leaves are the last thing they try to enforce, fearing a backlash.
    The question at hand is dirt and compost,gravel,etc. Would BP readers feel inclined to leave ‘notification letters’ at each house that has an offending pile in front? Some might,but most would fear putting themselves in a confrontory position. I imagine enforcement officers from the City might take this as notice to enforce leaves too,but a $50K settlement gets my attention much more. You won’t find leaves or dirt,or anything else on the ROW beside MY house.
    Perhaps if you have an offending neighbor,the right thing to do would be to tell them,before they cause injury.It might be more effective if we all did that.

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  • h February 4, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    Thank for this news. Even with lights, it is still hard to see things on the road especially when it is wet. I am a homeowner too.

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  • Unit February 4, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    Jeez, buy some orange cones for $10 at the hardware store and this injury probably doesn’t happen. Is this rocket science, people?

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  • Hau February 9, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    0.20 blood alcohol level, no light, no helmet. In the end, a settlement was less risky and costly than going to court; which thankfully was covered by homeowners insurance.

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  • wsbob February 9, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    “0.20 blood alcohol level,…” ?

    Hau? Hau Hagedorn, I presume, homeowner that was subject to the lawsuit. Much harder for me to feel a lot of sympathy for the person hitting the dirt pile while riding a bike, if alcohol, particularly that level of alcohol, was a factor. Of course, the victims blood alcohol level would have been documented for you to be able to make that statement truthfully.

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  • Jackattak February 9, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    Wait, how could you possibly know what the rider’s BAC level was if you didn’t get hit with the suit until 6 months after the incident?

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  • wsbob February 9, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    Re; 0.20 blood alcohol level… .

    I hope Hau Hagedorn answers. I presume the person on the bike had to go to the hospital where a blood alcohol test might have been part of medical attention for injuries sustained in the collision. The insurance company might have got hold of the info while deciding whether or not to challenge the lawsuit.

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  • Toyo Harada February 20, 2010 at 12:52 am

    Well, I’ll say this… my BAC level was 0.00 and the only reason I didn’t hit this dirt pile dumped under the shade of a tree in front of a house with no front porch light in an area of the street with no streetlights was because Jeremy hit it first a few seconds ahead of me. I had a light and didn’t see the dirt, just Jeremy sprawled in the street vomiting blood. And, in this case, saying he didn’t have a helmet is just trying to deflect the blame because, as you know, when he hit the dirt at full speed and his chin came crashing down on his handlebars, a helmet wouldn’t really have made a difference.

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