The 2009 death of an Oregon-bound family on a California freeway led this week to an important wrongful death ruling by a court in our neighbor to the south. As reported by the Los Angeles Times a 13-year-old girl is now the only survivor of her family’s SUV accident. The family car hit the rear of an illegally parked truck near La Crescenta, California while on its way to Oregon for a Thanksgiving vacation.
According to the newspaper the truck’s driver was parked “in an area designated for emergencies only without his trailer lights or emergency reflectors on… (the driver’s) attorney argued at trial that his client had pulled over to the side of the road to take medication for a severe headache, which constituted an emergency.” The victim’s attorney, however, pointed out that the driver had given conflicting versions of the incident at different times, “including stopping to urinate and pulling over to sleep,” the Times reports.
When the family SUV burst into flames the teenage girl and her elder brother managed to reach safety but their parents and another brother were not able to get away from the burning car. The newspaper notes that the surviving brother “committed suicide in June, four days before his mother’s birthday,” a fact that highlights in the worst way imaginable the intense psychological trauma these two children have gone through.
When we focus on the immediate damage from a car crash, or even the physical injuries to children that may result, we sometimes miss the deeper psychological scars an incident like this can leave. Indeed, whatever physical injuries the surviving girl may still be struggling with it is easy to believe that the mental trauma of that night will prove to be its most enduring scar.
As a Portland personal injury lawyer with a special interest in injuries to children I look at this case and take some small comfort from the fact that our legal system offers the victim some remedy. Because the truck was a commercial vehicle and the driver’s reckless action took place while he was on duty – operating within the course and scope of his employment, to use the legal terminology – it is easier than it might otherwise be for the victim to obtain some measure of justice. This is an aspect of our legal system for which we can all be grateful, even as we mourn these senseless deaths – and resolve more vigilance on the roads as the holidays approach.
Los Angeles Times: Jury awards $150 million to girl whose family died in crash