We were asked by another attorney to work together to represent a disabled man from Central Oregon who was injured in a violent truck crash. The man was injured when a tractor trailer rig passed in a no passing zone at 55 mph and crashed into the side of the man’s small Toyota pick-up truck.
A commercial trucking company chose to have a 24-year old driver, who obtained his Commercial Drivers License less than four months earlier, drive freight solo around the country. On a July morning, the inexperienced driver drove a 58,000 pound loaded semi on Highway 97 southbound just past Crescent. At that location, Highway 97 is a two-lane rural highway divided by double yellow lines. The sun was high in the sky by 10:20 a.m., and visibility was clear. The semi driver admitted to police officers after the collision that he was driving the semi “too close” to the rear of a small Toyota pick-up ahead of him.
The trucking company driver decided to pass the Toyota on the left in the no-passing zone, turned on the big rig’s left turn signal, crossed over the double yellow line into the lane of opposing traffic without braking, and maintained his highway speed. It did not matter to the truck driver that the man ahead in the Toyota had his left turn signal on. The Toyota driver, who was not expecting a tractor trailer to be passing on the left in a no-passing zone, turned left. The 58,000 pound semi hit the Toyota on the driver side door at full highway velocity. The Toyota spun and completely flipped across the highway, landing in a ditch to the right of the road.
The semi lost complete control, with the tractor and its trailer both tipping over. The rig slid down Highway 97 on its side for 228 feet. It came to a stop stretching across the road, completely blocking all northbound and southbound traffic. The Oregon State Police investigated the collision and cited the semi driver for careless driving.
The Toyota driver remained conscious during the entire series of events and was filled with the terror that he would die. As the big rig truck smashed into the driver’s side of the Toyota, he heard the metal crumble and his head smashed into the corner of his pickup cab. Then the pickup hit something hard and catapulted its driver from the cab. His body slammed onto the pavement where he began to slide and scrape across the asphalt at high speed. As he slid, all that he could think of was that the semi was right behind him and was about to crush him. He started to tumble down the road as the semi caught up to him and was sliding next to him. He was then flipped off the highway and thrown into a ditch, where he landed face down. He was sure that he was dying in that ditch. His body was numb with pain all over and he wondered whether he still had all of his arms and legs.
Brief overview of the man’s injuries
Paramedics eventually came and cut off the man’s clothes and hoisted him onto a gurney. He was airlifted to St. Charles Hospital in Bend for emergency treatment. At the hospital the man remembers his wounds being scraped and cleaned throughout the day. He was told not to move, was repeatedly taken for imaging, and was terrified of what bodily functions he may have lost from the collision.
The injured man had initial emergency treatment, a shoulder surgery, a neck surgery, and procedures for glass removal, as well as counseling to assist him with his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and fear of large trucks and driving since this terrifying experience. His medical bills totaled over $175,000.
The injured man was a mentally impaired person. Before the truck collision, he had managed to fashion an independent but limited life for himself. He was deemed to be disabled before the collision, and accordingly there was no wage loss claim. He had multiple health issues before the truck crash, some of which made him more likely to be injured and to require treatment.
While a defendant is not responsible for injuries the defendant did not cause, under Oregon law a defendant is fully liable for injuries that may have been greater than those that would have been suffered by a healthier person. The old expression is that a “defendant takes the plaintiff as he finds him.” A defendant should not able to say, “if the person had been a 24 year old NFL linebacker, his injuries would be less.” If the defendant hits the linebacker’s disabled uncle or aging grandmother, it is the injuries of the person who was hit that count, not the lesser injuries that a younger, stronger, healthier person might have sustained.
There is another old expression: “it’s not what the defendant takes away, it’s what the defendant leaves the plaintiff with.” Many people might think that the injured man did not have much going for him before the crash, but the trucking company misconduct has left him with even less.
Conclusion of the case
We tried to negotiate directly with the law firm representing the trucking company and its employee, but those negotiations stopped at the direction of the trucking company’s management. Eventually, the trucking company asked for a mediation with a respected retired judge, and the case settled at mediation for a confidential amount.
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