A commercial truck can weigh anywhere from 17.5-40 tons (35,000-80,000 pounds.) When you compare that to passenger vehicles, which weigh only about 1-3 tons (2,000-6,000 pounds,) it is easy to see how an accident involving a big rig can do massive — and often fatal — damage. If you’re hurt — or a loved one killed — in a commercial truck accident, there may be multiple parties with potential liability, ranging from truck drivers to trucking companies to a host of insurance companies. Complex civil cases like these often are ones where a skilled Oregon truck accident lawyer can be especially helpful.
A Willamette Valley crash was one of the most recent examples of just how devastating the results can be when a trucker operates his vehicle unsafely. Due to the complexities and amount (and severity) of the injuries involved, this case will likely take years to conclude and for families to get closure.
The trucker was traveling on Interstate 5 between Albany and Salem and, according to prosecutors, “had been weaving on and off the road” as he headed northbound. As he approached the Santiam River Rest Area, he allegedly veered onto the east shoulder of the highway and slammed into a Ford Econoline passenger van, crushing it between the trucker’s rig and a parked semi. The Oregonian reported that seven van passengers died. In addition, four more van passengers were transported to a hospital via ambulance.
Allegedly, the trucker never hit his brakes at any point before the collision. Prosecutors indicated that the trucker was, at the time of the crash, “under the influence of a controlled substance and an inhalant,” the Statesman Journal reported. The man allegedly declined to take a field sobriety test, was “unable to focus and answer basic questions,” was in possession of methamphetamine and inhalants, and admitted to having consumed speed the day before the crash.
Seeking Compensation from Insurers
A case like this one presents many legal issues when it comes to getting compensation for the harm suffered by the injured and the families of the deceased. On one side, you have multiple potential plaintiffs, including the survivors and the estates of the decedents. This collection of victims will ultimately have to split the insurance payouts coming from the trucker and his employer’s insurers.
Additionally, those victims can make insurance claims on the underinsured/uninsured motorist (UIM) coverage of the van’s insurance policy, as well as the UIM coverage on their own personal auto insurance policies. As you can see, a major crash like this likely will involve multiple parties entitled to compensation and multiple insurers.
Seeking Compensation in Court
For the loved ones of the deceased passengers, seeking compensation in civil court requires following the right procedural steps. Incidents like this one potentially can implicate one or both of two state statutes: ORS Section 30.020 (the wrongful death statute) and ORS Section 30.075 (the statute for survival actions.) The former deals with claims alleging that the defendant’s negligence caused the victim’s death; the latter deals with claims alleging that the defendant’s negligence caused the victim to suffer harm prior to his/her death.
The law generally allows a plaintiff to assert both but restricts recovery to one or the other (and not both.) The key thing to keep in mind is that, here in Oregon, the person bringing a wrongful death or a survival action must be the personal representative of the decedent’s estate, meaning that an estate for the deceased must be opened before a wrongful death or survival action can proceed.
Finally, if the evidence establishes that the trucker was driving under the influence, the injured passengers and the estates of the deceased passengers can seek punitive damages as part of their civil cases. This requires establishing that the liable party acted severely recklessly, intentionally, or otherwise engaged in egregious misconduct.
When you lose a loved one as a result of someone else’s negligence, recklessness, or intentional malfeasance, you not only experience an incalculable personal loss but often a severe financial setback, too. If you’re injured in a truck crash (or you lost a loved one in this type of accident,) you should not speak with the at-fault driver’s insurer, but you should cooperate with law enforcement in their investigation. If you have questions about your truck accident matter, the Oregon wrongful death attorneys at Kaplan Law LLC are here to provide reliable information and advice. Call us today at (503) 226-3844 or contact us online to set up your free consultation.