A Fatal Crash in Lincoln County and What It Says About Wrongful Death Lawsuits in Oregon

A fatal accident west of Corvallis is a tragic yet important illustration that not all fatal vehicle accidents are created equal from a legal standpoint. All wrongful death cases arising from vehicle crashes can benefit from the services of a skilled Oregon wrongful death lawyer but some are especially complex, requiring extra steps and faster action.

The crash occurred in Yachats (a small coastal city about three hours southwest of Portland) and involved a 25-year-old woman driving her compact SUV northbound on Highway 101.

At the same time, an ambulance was turning left from a fire station driveway to enter the highway’s southbound lanes and respond to a high-priority call at a nearby assisted living facility. The two vehicles collided and the impact killed K.S., the mother-of-two who was driving the SUV.

In Oregon, one cannot simply go to the circuit court and submit a wrongful death complaint.

Necessary Steps Before Filing a Wrongful Death Complaint

First, someone must go to court and obtain an order that names them as the personal representative of the deceased’s estate. Oregon probate law establishes a specific order of preference that the court will follow for naming a personal representative. The first priority is the person the deceased named in his/her will. If there is no will, the next priority is the surviving spouse. If there is no will and no surviving spouse, the law says the next priority is “a person who would be entitled to property of the decedent under intestate succession.” The priority after that is “any other distributee of the estate.”

This somewhat deep dive into Oregon probate law is relevant in cases like this because Oregon wrongful death law says that the personal representative of the deceased’s estate is the only one who can serve as the plaintiff in a wrongful death case, so you must be certain you’ve identified the right person to petition to become the representative.

In the Yachats crash, the personal representative was the deceased woman’s mother.

What Happens If the Other Driver Was a Public Employee

The mother’s case was further complicated by who hit her daughter. Multiple ambulance providers service that area, both public and private. The ambulance involved in the crash belonged to a nonprofit entity that was the subsidiary of — and staffed by — the local rural fire protection district. In other words, the mother’s wrongful death case would need to seek justice from public entities and a public employee.

That matters because, when the liable party in your wrongful death case is a public one, you must take extra steps. Oregon has a special statute for these scenarios called the Oregon Tort Claims Act. Under that act, you cannot simply go to court and file a civil complaint for wrongful death (as you might reasonably do if the responsible parties were private entities/individuals.) Before you file a civil complaint against public entities/employees, you must provide the agency with a written notice of your intent to bring that claim.

This extra step substantially impacts the amount of time you have to pursue your case. If you were pursuing wrongful death compensation from private entities/individuals, you might have as much as three years (or sometimes even longer) to pursue your case. When the responsible parties are public agencies/employees, you have only one year from the date of the accident to file your notice with the relevant agency. (For tort claims not involving death, the deadline is just 180 days.) Generally, missing this notice deadline will permanently bar you from seeking any recovery in court.

Fortunately for the mother, she hit that essential deadline, obtaining the necessary appointment as the personal representative within 15 days of the accident and submitting the required tort claims notice within less than 45 days, well ahead of the deadline.

When an auto accident has taken a loved one, and you believe the crash was the result of the other driver’s negligence or reckless misconduct, the law has several legal steps that must be addressed to obtain justice through legal action. Each step carries with it the potential of ruining your case if not completed with the precision the law demands. To ensure that your pursuit of justice is not destroyed by procedural shortcomings, be certain you have the legal representation you need. As your family grieves an immeasurable loss, count on the compassionate and diligent Oregon wrongful death attorneys at Kaplan Law LLC to handle your legal matters, providing personalized attention, thoughtful advice, and effective advocacy to achieve a fair and just outcome for your family. Call (503) 226-3844 today or contact us online to set up your free consultation.

50 SW Pine St 3rd Floor Portland, OR 97204 Telephone: (503) 226-3844 Fax: (503) 943-6670 Email: matthew@mdkaplanlaw.com
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