$26.5 million ‘nuclear verdict’ stands in fatal Oregon road-rage crash
Smacked with a $26.5 million jury award nearly a year ago in a lawsuit stemming from a fatal road-rage crash, Horizon Transport of Wakarusa, Indiana, has failed in its appeal to have the amount lowered.
The case was recently resolved with the verdict intact through a voluntary mediation program offered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.
“The case has been settled on terms mutually agreeable to everyone,” R. Daniel Lindahl of Bullivant Houser Bailey PC told FreightWaves. He was among the attorneys representing Horizon Transport in the appeals process.
An Oregon jury awarded the “nuclear verdict” against Horizon Transport and another trucking company, Smoot Brothers Transportation, headquartered in Brigham City, Utah, in May 2019. The jury found that the drivers for the two companies had been engaged in a cat-and-mouse game for nearly 100 miles along U.S. Highway 20 prior to the fatal crash that killed Sara Allison and severely injured her husband, Matthew, of Boise, Idaho, on June 5, 2016, near Burns, Oregon.
However, prior to that verdict, Smoot Brothers reached a $900,000 secret “Mary Carter” settlement agreement with Sara Allison’s estate, which the jury wasn’t aware of when awarding damages, which left Horizon Transport on the hook for the bulk of the $26.5 million verdict.
“A Mary Carter agreement is [an] arrangement whereby the settling defendant nevertheless goes to trial, but the liability of the settling defendant is limited,” according to the American Bar Association.
Horizon attorneys appealed, but U.S. Magistrate Judge Patricia Sullivan declined to reduce the jury award and refused to grant a new trial in the road-rage crash.
Tom D’Amore, a Portland, Oregon-based attorney who represented Matthew Allison in the lawsuit against Horizon and Smoot Brothers, said his client is relieved the case is finally over.
“He really suffered during this whole process,” D’Amore told FreightWaves. “Matt’s out there somewhere in Utah or Idaho, just being a regular guy. He wants to be a loner and doesn’t even want us to really know where he’s at.”
The fatal crash
According to court documents, Sara Allison was driving east on U.S. 20 when she crashed head-on with a truck driven by James Decou, who drove for Smoot Brothers.
Decou and two other Smoot Brothers drivers, Peter Barnes and Cory Frew, were headed from Salt Lake City to Eugene, Oregon, when they encountered CDL-holder Jonathan Hogaboom, who was driving a 45-foot-long luxury motorhome for Horizon to its new owner in Oregon.
Court records alleged that Hogaboom cut off Barnes on a stretch of highway near Mountain Home, Idaho, which resulted in a 100-mile game of cat-and-mouse as all of the commercial truck drivers were driving aggressively, cutting each other off and brake checking each other prior to the crash.
Just before the crash, Decou attempted to pass the RV driven by Hogaboom in a no-passing zone.
After being alerted to the oncoming car driven by Sara Allison, Decou tried to return to his legal lane, but court reports claimed that Hogaboom sped up or slowed down and refused to allow Decou’s truck “to pass or otherwise return to the westbound lane.”
Decou and Hogaboom were in adjacent lanes when they reached a blind turn.
In an effort to avoid hitting the tractor-trailer heading toward them in the wrong lane, Sara Allison swerved to the right at the same time Decou swerved, hitting the Allisons’ vehicle head-on, killing her, and severely injuring her husband.
Following the crash, Decou pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter and was sentenced to six years in prison in Oregon. The other drivers were not charged.
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Smoot driver James Decou was sentenced to six years in prison in road-rage crash that killed Sara Allison.
Photo: Smoot Brothers
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Source of original story and credits: freightwaves
iTrucker / Mario Pawlowski