Joshua Shulman Testified for OR House Bill 2542 to Stop Hit and Runs
On March 4th 2013, Portland personal injury lawyer Joshua Shulman testified in Salem before the Judiciary Committee on behalf of House Bill 2542. The Bill increases the penalty for hit and run drivers who seriously injure anyone in their crash. Video provided the Oregon Legislative Media.
My name is Joshua Shulman. I’m a partner in the law firm of Shulman DuBois. I’ve been a personal injury attorney in Portland for almost 10 years now. As a personal injury lawyer, I represent injury victims of all types of accidents, but I’m here today specifically to share some of my thoughts and experiences about hit-and-run injuries.
Leaving the Scene Causes Separate Injuries
From experience, I can tell you that hit-and-runs often leave the worst psychological and emotional injuries. It is bad enough to be the victim of an accident caused by another person. Bad enough to have to suffer the physical injuries — the broken bones, damaged organs, disfigurement. But when an injury is caused by momentary inattention — when it’s an accident — most victims are able to get over the injury psychologically, if not physically.
Then there is the psychological damage. When one human being does this to another human being — leaves her there bleeding in the street, possibly to die there — it can cause psychological damage that will never heal. Because the person who has been hit and then left to die now knows, for an absolute fact, exactly the level of evil that another human being is capable of. The victim now knows this deep in her bones; she will never forget this kind of experience, or what it tells her about other human beings.
People Run for a Reason
Most people leave the scene of an accident for a reason. They’ve either been drinking or doing drugs, or they have a suspended license, or both. And the way the law is now, it gives an incentive for these people to leave the scene. I hate to say it, but if I were a criminal defense lawyer, and a client called me up and said “I’m really drunk and I just hit someone; what’s my best option to get the lightest punishment possible?” I’d have to advise them to run away. Giving this advice would merely be telling the person how the law works. The way the law is now, this is what the law encourages.
If penalties for leaving the scene are made more severe, that would give the prosecutor a bargaining chip to balance out the one-sided incentives currently in place. It would help to create the right legal incentives for people to stay on the scene, render aid, and take responsibility.
Driving is a Privilege, Not a Right
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the right to drive a car.”
That is really the takeaway point I want to leave you all with today. We’re not talking about criminal penalties today. We’re not talking about putting anyone in jail. We’re not talking about taking away anyone’s rights. We’re talking about who the State of Oregon is going to grant a special privilege to: the privilege of driving. Does the State of Oregon think that a driver who hits someone, and then can’t even be bothered to call 911 and wait for the ambulance — does the State want to confer the special privilege of driving upon that person? Or would we prefer to make that person wait (a measly) three years before being allowed this special privilege?
I support this Bill because I’ve seen first hand how hit-and-run drivers can affect the lives of the people they leave lying in the road. And I hope, as an attorney, that changing the law will help prevent injuries, both physical and psychological, by removing some of the incentive drivers now have to leave the scene after a collision.
This Bill is a small step. I certainly hope it passes, but more than that, I hope it is the beginning of a comprehensive look at Oregon’s hit-and-run laws, and a strengthening of the penalties all around for this crime. Ultimately, I’d like to see license revocations for far longer than the 1 year for injuries and 5 years for death that we currently have, and also even longer than the 3 years for serious injury that this Bill contemplates. HB 2542 is a great start, but I do hope that it’s only the beginning.