Oregon jury sends a multi-million-dollar message about truck driver training

It could be one of the largest jury verdicts in the U.S. for this type of case—a wrongful death caused by truck driver negligence.

30-year-old Sara Allison of Boise was hit head-on and killed by a semi-truck on Highway 20 near Burns, Oregon. Her husband Matthew Allison suffered life-threatening and permanent injuries.

The semi-truck driver had been trying to pass a luxury motor home.  Ms. Allison swerved her car toward the ditch, trying to avoid the oncoming semi-truck. A truck driver for Smoot Brothers swerved in the same direction, hitting the car head-on.

Sadly, this type of crash is not uncommon: rural highways see more than their fair share of tractor-trailer crashes. But in this case, the Oregon jury sent a message to the truck drivers’ employers with a 26.5 million-dollar verdict.

Improve your truck driver training.

It wasn’t just that the truck driver had failed at passing a motor home, and failed to return to his lane of travel.

He was part of a 3-trailer convey of Smoot Brothers truckers traveling from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Eugene, Oregon. The attorney for the plaintiffs (the Allison family) said that 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 racing each other, speeding, brake checking, and trapping vehicles by speeding up and slowing down to prevent passing.

In short, these professional drivers were playing a game of chicken … as though they were teenage drivers drag-racing in an empty lot, instead of professional adults with CMVs whose job is to safely operate motor vehicles. 

All of these drivers should have learned safe following distance, how to pass safely, how to re-enter to the proper lane of travel, and how to avoid endangering others. 

Motor carriers the size of Smoot Brothers should have complete and detailed safety programs, rules and ongoing training in place. The fact that 3 of their truckers engaged in this incredibly dangerous behavior indicates that Smoot Brothers failed. 

Smoot Brothers and the truck driver that struck the Allisons were also found to have falsified logbooks and violated hours of service regulations. (Note: the

“They can make sure this doesn’t happen again  – and out of state trucking companies’ safety programs can make sure this doesn’t happen again.

That is what I think the relief the family got was from this case, they needed to send a message to get behavior to change.”

– Steve Brady, plaintiffs attorney for the Allisons

The key to a safe fleet is safe truck drivers.

Being a good truck driver requires a lot of knowledge and driving skill.

The best professional drivers understand that the choices they make can have dire consequences. They understand how their vehicles can injure and kill people, and they take their jobs seriously.

truck driver-training-rainy-Oregon-highway
Rural Oregon highways have a lot of semi-truck traffic. A truck driver’s bad choices can have dire consequences – as it did for Sara Allison and her family.

Safe truck drivers are not an accident: they are the product of proper safety programs, good training, and experience—and of a workplace culture emphasizing the importance of professional safety.  Safety must be the top priority.

The trucker often takes the brunt of the responsibility for a fatal truck crash, but the motor carrier must share a huge part of the blame.

The message the Oregon jury sent to Smoot Brothers and Horizon Transport. As a motor carrier with heavy trucks and trailers on the public road, your operation requires that you properly train your drivers and hold them accountable for safety—or you will pay the price.


Say “crash”, not “accident” 


What happened to the Allisons was not an “accident.”

It was a predictable, preventable crash caused by reckless truck drivers.



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