Farm Truck Strikes and Kills Motorcyclist
We were asked by an Eastern Oregon attorney to work on the wrongful death case of a motorcyclist who was just short of his 29th birthday when he was killed.
Collision: Context and Event
An eastern Oregon agricultural business employed the driver of the pickup truck who caused this fatal collision. That driver had a long record of charges and convictions for traffic offenses. He has been found guilty of driving 54 mph in a 30 mph zone, driving 75 mph in a 65 mph zone, driving 68 mph in a 35 mph zone, driving 64 mph in a 45 mph zone, criminal driving while suspended, and driving under the influence of intoxicants (twice). In addition, that driver was also charged with multiple other traffic offenses which were otherwise resolved by plea agreements or other circumstances.
The driver’s license of the pickup truck driver had been suspended several times. Such suspension periods includes two and a half years because of his failure to pass a blood alcohol test, a court order following a possession of a controlled substance conviction, a DUII conviction, and failure to comply with the terms of his DUII probation. There was another suspension for his failure to comply with another court order.
The agricultural business pickup truck was on Highway 730, next to Interstate 84. The pickup truck driver cut the corner as he turned left directly in front of the motorcyclist, who was driving the opposite direction. The motorcyclist braked hard, trying to avoid the collision, and left a skid mark in his proper lane of travel which veers somewhat away from the turning truck. The crash was in the motorcyclist’s lane. Afterwards, both vehicles burned. The intensity of the fire melted aluminum that is now embedded in the pavement. The pickup driver described afterwards how he drug the motorcyclist away from the fire. It’s a reasonable inference that the motorcyclist was still alive as he was burning.
The collision occurred on a July afternoon. It was full daylight, clear, and dry; weather and lighting were not a factor. The pickup truck driver first said that he was “getting ready” to turn, and saw the motorcycle “run into his pickup.” The physical evidence is that the collision was caused when the pickup truck turned into and was crossing the motorcyclist’s lane, not when he was “getting ready” to turn. The pickup truck driver later said he did not see the motorcycle until it hit the front of the pickup. The pickup truck driver in fact had a long, unobstructed view of oncoming traffic; there was no valid excuse for his failing to see an oncoming vehicle.
A police accident reconstructionist was called to the scene, and concluded that it was obvious what had happened. Accordingly, the pickup truck driver was cited for a dangerous left turn.
Human Losses and Harms
The young man who was killed and his brother and two sisters were raised here in Oregon by their mother and father. Growing up, he attended public schools in Klamath Falls, and later took two semesters of classes at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham. His father died while he was young. He was especially close with his mother, and with one of his brothers. He had lived with that brother and had helped raise his brother’s young son and daughter. The motorcyclist did not live long enough to experience the birth of his own daughter, who was left to face life without the benefits of having a father.
According to family members, the young man loved to snowboard and ride his motorcycle. He enjoyed fishing for sturgeon in the Columbia River. He liked BBQing next to the Columbia River. At the time he was killed, he was working, attending and volunteering at church, and seeing his mother and other family members regularly.
The young man must have experienced a brief period of terror before the impact. His was a horrible, fiery, and undoubtedly painful death.
When the parent of a young child is killed, the child loses the benefit of the parent’s love, presence, and guidance. The largest losses to this man’s daughter are the human losses. Scholarly research indicates that “daughters, especially eldest daughters, will be particularly disadvantaged after the loss of a parent.”
Economic Harms and Losses
The child also loses the financial support of that parent, and the services the parent would have provided. At the time he was killed, this young man was working at a local company, where he drove a forklift. We retained an independent economist who analyzed the loss of net income, taking into account the young man’s age and education, his recent earnings history, and the average wages of young men of similar age and backgrounds. The economic analysis reduced for personal consumption, and then reduced to present value. In part because the man had most of his working years ahead of him, those economic losses were substantial.
To evaluate the loss of direct services to the surviving daughter, we retained a home economist, who based the analysis on data from the U. S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics’s American Time Use Survey. That survey includes information on the number of hours fathers spend providing direct services to their children. To make the most conservative (and therefore defensible) analysis, only the low end of the hourly time value was used.
Some Reflections About This Case
A major case such as this rarely resolves without litigation. We filed this case in Multnomah County Circuit Court. As so often occurs when a collision kills one driver, the other driver may try to create a self-serving story about what happens. While the initial police investigation thought it was obvious what happened, in the lawsuit, the pickup truck driver and the insurance defense legal team tried to blame the motorcyclist.
We worked with an engineer who was a specialist in traffic collision reconstruction who painstakingly went over the scene, the photographs, the physical evidence, and the measurements. That analysis showed that the collision was entirely the fault of the pickup truck driver. The motorcyclist was in the right, and did not have time to react to avoid being hit.
Another common defense tactic is to attack the memory of the deceased person. Here, the man on the motorcycle had some blemishes in his past, from when he was younger. However, that’s something of a two way street. In the course of the litigation we learned that the pickup truck driver was a registered predatory sex offender with a long list of convictions including rape in the third degree (twice), attempted rape in the first degree, attempted sexual abuse in the first degree, felon in possession of a firearm, possession of a controlled substance, assault in the fourth degree, criminal mischief, and driving under the influence of intoxicants. Oregon courts have put substantial efforts into dealing with the pickup truck driver’s antisocial tendencies, including mandating that he undergo sex offender treatment, anger management, safe driving classes, and substance abuse treatment. Considering the driver’s long record of contempt for the rules of the road and his persistent felonious behavior, it was astounding that the agricultural business entrusted him with the serious responsibility of driving a vehicle on behalf of the corporation.
The insurance company on the other side of the case eventually asked for a mediation. The wrongful death case was resolved for $900,000.
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