(Photo: Marilyn M)
Here’s a troubling incident that doesn’t directly involve a bike, but certainly could have.
Less than a month after Portland became one of the first cities to legalize Internet-based ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, it calls into question the street culture that such services could be creating.
According to a local lawyer, it seems to qualify as a hit-and-run. Police are declining to investigate.
Here’s the account from reader John E. (emphases mine):
Walking to work going East on Alder St, I came to the intersection of Park and Alder about 8:00 AM. Park is a single lane street with parking on both sides. As I get close Car 1 pulls up to the stop sign and is going to turn right and stops. Car 2 (Uber) pulls up next to it as if it is going straight and stops to the side of Car 1 but slightly further back. The two cars are side by side stopped where the red truck in the attached picture is. Both are stopped and traffic is coming from the same direction as me so I start to cross the crosswalk and then Car 2 makes a move as if to attempt to block the view of Car 1. The driver of Car 2 was staring down the driver of Car 1 and seemed irritated with him. In doing so he was looking the wrong direction and moved about a 2 feet forward and struck my right knee hard enough he knew he hit something as he looked panicked but again, I’m okay.
Right after being hit I was a little panicked and my first reaction (later regretted due to a sore hand) was I smacked the hood. I quickly passed through the intersection to get to a safe spot. The driver rolled down his window apologizing but I was angry, scared, panicked, disturbed and really just not sure what to do. I knew I wasn’t hurt so I thought about starting to walk the next 2 blocks to work and then saw that the car was driving past me and never looked over at me so I just kept walking towards work. The driver was a white male about 30 years old (give or take 5 years). I know it was an Uber due to the U sticker in the front windshield. I wished I would have gotten the license plates but it all happened so fast. I went back to the spot and the hotel at that intersection said they had cameras that might have caught it but their facilities person was on medical leave and no one else could help. Macy’s down the street had a camera facing the street but they refused to help unless the police requested it. So I went to the police station and they laughed me off since I wasn’t hurt and told me “good luck.” I didn’t notice if anyone was in the backseat and am not sure if a pickup or dropoff just happened.
Uber sent me an credited me $25 which I wasn’t seeking or had asked for. It was kind but would have been insulting had I actually been hurt. The reason I reached out in the first place was only to try to report the driver so they could hopefully remove bad drivers like that from the road (or at least their employment). I honestly didn’t even expect any response from Uber but was glad they at least responded to say they would investigate it. At this point I’m more upset with the response from the Portland Police but from your website and some others I’ve read it sounds like that is the norm.
John is definitely right about that last bit, at least. In most circumstances, Portland police won’t consider issuing a citation, let alone an investigation, unless an ambulance ride is involved.
But there’s also supposed to be an exception for hit-and-run cases.
Note that despite John’s hunch, it’s not certain that this person was on the job driving for Uber, or even if this is the same person who sometimes uses that car to drive for Uber; all we know is that there was an Uber sticker in the window.
Also, this was admittedly a slightly ambiguous situation: even John describes himself as not “hurt.” But according to lawyer Charley Gee of the local firm Swanson, Thomas, Coon and Newton, this probably qualifies as a hit and run under Oregon law.
Since violation of ORS 811.705 Failure to perform duties of driver to injured persons is a felony the appellate courts have interpreted the statute to have a knowingly mens rea (criminal mental state) which is the highest intent to prove. The main case on hit and run is State v. Corpuz 49 Or App 811 (1980), which found that the state must prove the driver knowingly committed hit and run (as in they knew they hit someone and left) but also includes the following:
“The burden is on the driver involved in an accident to stay at the scene and verify that no one was hurt or in need of assistance or to risk severe penalty. We decline to put the burden on the state to prove that a driver knew another person was injured. The state need only prove that defendant knew, or prove circumstances from which it can be inferred that he knew, he was involved in an accident which was likely to have resulted in injury or death to another person.”
State v. Corpuz, 49 Or. App. 811, 820, 621 P.2d 604, 609 (1980).
So in this matter, if the collision was one where a reasonable person would consider likely to have resulted in an injury, then the driver needed to stay at the scene and affirmatively verify that the victim was not hurt. Just looking out your car window and seeing the fact that the person walking is not immobile after the collision is not sufficient.
So if John’s description is accurate, this seems to have been a felony that no one is willing to do anything about.
Uber hasn’t responded to an emailed request for comment Tuesday afternoon.
The real question in this incident isn’t about liability or even criminal activity per se. It’s about whether it’s socially acceptable to cruise away after causing an incident like that. And though it’s unquestionably true that this sort of thing happens regularly in Portland, it may make sense for someone — the police, Uber, someone — to hold commercial drivers to a higher standard.
For the moment, we’re glad John is OK, and we’re not looking forward to the next version of this story that we might hear.
— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Andersen was news editor of BikePortland.org from 2013 to 2016 and still pops up occasionally.