We settled a trucking collision case in which our client suffered serious injuries to his right leg. The survivor was a passenger in a trucking rig that was involved in a three truck collision on icy roads in eastern Oregon. All three trucking companies were negligent, two in driving too fast for conditions without traction chains, and the third in not yielding to other vehicles on the highway.
However, our client faced an interesting legal problem. Some trial and appellate courts in Oregon have upheld arguments by trucking companies and their insurers that they should not be held liable for injuries caused to a passenger in the truck. Indeed, as one trucking company’s defense counsel in our case pointed out to the trial court, an Oregon Supreme Court case from the 1920s appeared to agree that a trucking company could avoid liability in these circumstances. With that case law behind them, one of the trucking companies long refused any talk of settlement, thinking that it would be immune from liability, no matter how negligent the company and its driver.
We recognized the challenge, but decided that we would not accept a rule that would give a trucking company immunity when its 80,000 pound truck lost control on the public highway and hurt others. We spent hundreds of hours researching and writing on the issue, reading thousands of pages of court opinions and legal treatises, and took numerous depositions. In the end, we were successful in seeking summary judgment on this issue, arguing that this rule of trucking company immunity does not apply. With nowhere left for the trucking companies to turn, the case was settled for $766,000.
Two Central Oregon agricultural businesses made the fatal decision to ignore tractor-trailer safety laws in order to make a profit. On the morning of March 4, 2010, their tractor-trailer lost part of its hay bale load on Highway 58. Gregory Muller was driving his rig in the opposite direction when the hay bales crashed into his truck. The cab was demolished and Greg was crushed.
Our investigation and case preparation revealed:
- Defendants’ tractor-trailer was unsafe and had received 23 vehicle safety violations three days before. None had been addressed, much less fixed;
- The defendant driver did not have the experience or the required commercial license to drive the tractor-trailer more than 150 miles, and far exceeded that limit for this trip;
- The load of hay bales were not properly strapped down and were 20,000 lbs the over weight limits; and
- The load had not been properly inspected.
We co-counseled this wrongful death case with Nevada attorney Jack Kennedy. The case was settled at a judicial settlement conference.