The road rage truck crash that killed Sara Allison and seriously injured her husband was shocking, even for seasoned veterans of trucking law.
It was a head-on collision with a semi-truck driver who had been trying to pass a motor home. Ms. Allison tried to avoid the oncoming semi-truck by swerving into a ditch. In a stunning bout of truck driver negligence, the trucker swerved in the same direction, hitting the car head-on.
The trucker part of a 3-trailer convey of Smoot Brothers truckers traveling from Utah to Oregon. The truckers were coordinating with each other to pass other vehicles very aggressively— and illegally.
At the time of the crash, they were trying to pass a luxury motor home, operated by a Horizon Transport driver. The motor home driver wouldn’t let the semi-truck driver back into the correct lane.
For over 90 miles, these 4 professional drivers had been playing a game. They had been racing, speeding, brake checking, and trapping vehicles by speeding up and slowing down to prevent passing. Their negligent, aggressive driving resulted in a road rage truck crash that destroyed lives.
After the jury verdict in road rage truck crash case
The case went before a jury in Eastern Oregon in October 2019. The jury awarded a record $26.5 million verdict to the plaintiffs.
Defendant Horizon Transport filed a motion asking the federal court for a new trial in the case, or to reduce the amount of the jury verdict. The court denied both.
Then, the defendant appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
The parties agreed to mediation in the Ninth Circuit program. In April 2020, the appeal was finally resolved — without a reduction in the $26.5 million the jury had awarded to the plaintiffs.
Now, the case is over. But the large jury verdict has rippled through the trucking industry.
The messages to trucking companies
Trucking companies and motor carriers have a duty to train and manage their truck drivers. There are any number of things that can go wrong on the road; truckers should be ready to contend with bad weather, bad traffic, and mechanical failures.
But in cases like this, the conditions were 100% within the control of the truckers. A road rage truck crash is not an accident. It is the predictable, preventable result of truck drivers bad choices.
Trucking companies who employ those drivers are responsible for them. And they need to be prepared for the incredible damage that can be done with heavy tractor-trailers.
One of the attorneys for the defendants said ” … these large verdicts are a real concern obviously because they can put a company out of business,” … “However, it’s the nature of litigation these days and it’s a risk of litigating cases.”
He added: “Trucking companies should make sure they have adequate liability insurance.”
Motor carriers are only legally required to have $750,000 in insurance coverage.
The $750,000 minimum insurance floor, set in 1985, never changed. Even simply adjusting for inflation, the minimum insurance floor should be close to $2 million by now.
“Trucking companies should make sure they have adequate liability insurance.”
One of the reasons we have a minimum motor carrier insurance limits is, incredible damage can be done by a heavy truck traveling at high speed. Another reason: to establish an entry-level safety standard for commercial truck drivers. If you can’t afford truck insurance, then you can’t afford the routine truck maintenance, brakes, tires and equipment needed to keep your fleet safe.
Commercial truck drivers and trucking companies should heed the warning sent by the Oregon jury in the Allison road rage truck crash case.
If they don’t, then they had better be prepared to pay the price.
You might notice that we did not use the word “accident” to describe this case. That is because the events that caused Sara Allison’s death, and her husband’s injuries, were both predictable and preventable – not an accident.
Kevin Coluccio is the only Washington State-based attorney certified in Truck Accident Law by the National Board of Trial Advocacy.