August 1, 2012

Eleven people died in a horrible series of car accidents in January 2012. A stretch of Interstate 75 — on the East Coast, not in Oregon — had closed in with smoke and fog. With visibility reduced to zero, vehicles crashed, one after another, and some caught fire. A few people sustained minor injuries, but many of the two dozen injured suffered life-altering injuries.

Some victims and victims’ families are pursuing wrongful death and personal injury claims. A few are suing the trucking companies that owned the tractor-trailers involved in the crashes. The drivers simply stopped their rigs instead of pulling off the road. When visibility got bad, other vehicles slammed into the backs of the trucks.

Some victims and victims’ families are looking to the state for compensation — as we discussed in our last post, a state investigation laid the fault for the accident squarely at the feet of the highway patrol. When attorneys approached the state with a request to settle the matter without going to court, officials at every level of government said no.

It is not clear if the “no” applies to any state involvement outside of litigation, though. One attorney who asserts that the governor promised to help with compensation is planning to pursue one last non-litigation avenue: a claims bill.

Winning a lawsuit against the highway patrol would trigger the state’s $200,000 damages cap. The only way around it would be to have the governor or a legislator sponsor a “claims bill” for each plaintiff or, perhaps, all plaintiffs together. The law would specify the amount of damages that the state would pay.

A claims bill, though, requires negotiation. The parties still have to determine what amount is fair, what amount would adequately compensate for a plaintiff’s loss. If the state is unwilling to settle before litigation, is there much hope that a claims bill could find its way to the legislature without a jury verdict to back it up?

Unfortunately, only time will tell. The injured and the families of the dead will have to wait.

Source: Herald Tribune, “State nixed I-75 crash settlement, lawyers say,” Nathan Crabbe and Jon Silman, Aug. 9, 2012

Our firm handles similar situations to the one discussed in this post. If you would like to learn more about our practice, please visit our Portland car accident page.


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