Jury awards $27M in damages after fatal crash in Oregon
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A federal jury in Oregon has awarded nearly $27 million in damages against two trucking companies and their drivers who lawyers say were involved in a road rage episode that killed a motorist.
The jury deliberated for about five hours before returning its verdict Friday after a two-week trial in U.S. District Court in Pendleton, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported .
Sara Alison of Idaho was driving east on U.S. Highway 20, near Burns, Oregon, when she crashed head-on with a flat-bed semi driven by James Decou on June 5, 2016. Lawyers say he had been trying to pass another truck that sped up and then slowed down to keep Decou from getting around him.
Alison “never had a chance when they came down the road,” attorney Steven J. Brady said, addressing reporters Tuesday in Portland.
Decou was driving for Utah-based Smoot Brothers Transportation and had been racing, speeding, aggressively honking, brake checking and cutting off Jonathan Hogaboom, the driver of a motorhome for Wakarusa, Indiana-based Horizon Transport, who kept Decou from getting back into the westbound lane, the plaintiffs’ lawyers said.
Hogaboom, who had been instructed by his company to stay off Highway 20 in Oregon, was accused of driving away from the crash scene. Two other drivers for Smoot Brothers also were involved in the road rage for over 90 miles on the highway that day, both driving semi-trailers, according to the plaintiffs’ lawyers.
“This should never have happened. These were four grown men who were professional drivers. They were trained better. They knew better,” said Brady, who represents Allison’s parents and her estate.
Allison had surprised her husband, Matthew Allison, with concert tickets in Oregon, as a celebration of his blood cancer remission. The crash occurred as they were driving back to Idaho from Crater Lake.
Sara Allison died at the scene.
Matthew Allison broke ribs and suffered a lacerated spleen and concussion.
U.S. District Judge Patricia Sullivan allowed the jury to award damages beyond Oregon’s wrongful death cap of $500,000 by applying the law from the victim’s home state of Idaho, which sets no limitations on non-economic damages in such cases.
Brady said he hopes the verdict sends a strong message to trucking companies to properly train drivers and to hold their drivers accountable when they engage in irresponsible actions.
Before the verdict, Allison’s estate reached a settlement with Smoot Brothers for $900,000, leaving Horizon Transport responsible for most of the damages.
Carl R. Rodrigues, attorney for Horizon Transport, told the newspaper Tuesday that the company is “still reviewing all issues pertaining to the verdict and will have no comment.”
Decou pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter and was sentenced to over six years in prison. He’s serving his sentence at Snake River Correctional Institution in eastern Oregon.
In court documents, Horizon Transport argued that the three Smoot drivers had been using CB communications to make illegal passes of other vehicles on the road multiple times that day and that “Smoot drivers needed a scapegoat and blamed Hogaboom.”
Information from: The Oregonian/OregonLive, http://www.oregonlive.com