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Drunk Driver Kills Passenger

Confidential Settlement

We were asked by a Bend attorney to represent the family of a 24 year-old Central Oregon woman in a wrongful death case against the impaired driver of the car in which she was a passenger.  She was a single mother, and the primary beneficiary in this case was her four year old son.

The Drunk Driver’s Fatal Single Car Crash

One summer event, a Central Oregon man and his friend had been drinking at a tavern in Redmond, Oregon.  Two young women were also at the tavern and were planning to take a taxi to one of their homes afterward. The Central Oregon man knew one of the women, and offered to drive them to instead, assuring them that he was fit to drive.

While driving north on Highway 97 near Terrebonne, the driver began to accelerate rapidly, driving in excess of 100 miles per hour.  According to statements from the two surviving passengers, he appeared to be “showing off.”   He lost control of his car, flew off the shoulder of the road, went airborne for about 106 feet, rolled numerous times, and finally collided with a private residence.

The investigating officer concluded that the driver was “solely responsible for this collision and the death of passenger [name withheld], as well as his own. He violated ORS 811.100 (Violation of Basic Speed Rule), and ORS 813.010 (Driving While Under the Influence of Intoxicants).” The Medical Examiner’s toxicology report showed that the driver’s blood alcohol level exceeded the maximum 0.08 limit for driving.  He ignored pleas from his passengers to “slow down,” including those of the woman he killed.

Grandparents left to raise young child

The young woman was killed in the crash on impact. Her son was four years old at the time.  The young woman’s death is having consequences for her son for the rest of his life.   He lost the love, support, services, and companionship his mother would have provided.  He also required grief counseling in an attempt to try to help him deal with the loss of his mother.  Adjusting to life without his mother was extremely difficult.

At the time of her death, the woman was working hard to give her son the best life that she could.  The boy was the center of her life and she wanted to make sure he had the best that she could give him.  She was his sole parent, his caregiver, and his provider.  After the young woman was killed, the parenting responsibility for the child rested on the shoulders of the woman’s parents.  At that stage of life they became responsible for caring and providing for the child,  which they were not prepared for, as they had already raised their children and the grandfather had already been retired for some time.

At the time she was killed, the woman was employed as a hostess at a restaurant in Redmond, Oregon, where she  had worked for nearly a year and up until her death.  According to the restaurant’s owner and her co-workers,  she was a stable, reliable, and well-liked employee, and they enjoyed having her working there.  She talked about her son all the time at work, how much she loved him, and how he was the biggest part of her world.

Some thoughts about this case

Single car incident cases can be more forensically challenging than collisions involving two or more vehicles.  When there is a single car crash, often it is friends or family who are in the car.  Jurors may feel some discomfort about one member of a family bringing a legal claim against another, or a friend suing a friend, although most jurors are knowledgeable enough to know that every driver is legally required to have automobile liability insurance.

After a lawsuit was filed in this case, the defense legal team argued that the woman was partially at fault for getting into the car with the driver.  Individuals vary greatly in how they appear after consuming alcohol.  Our investigation  indicates that while the driver was intoxicated, he was not “visibly intoxicated”; absent evidence of visible intoxication, the woman should not have been found to be at fault.  The man offered to drive, said he was fine, and it was reasonable under the circumstances as she knew them for the young woman to accept this representation.

The case settled through a mediation for a confidential amount that included future periodic payments, including payments intended to help the grandparents with expenses as the boy grew up, payments timed to help the boy go to college when he reached that age, and payments intended to help him buy a house in adulthood.

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