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Oregon Supreme Court Rules Jury Permitted to Consider Truckers Intoxication – Lasley v. Combined Transport

By September 30, 2011Verdicts and Settlements

As a Missouri semi truck accident attorney, I was interested to read a decision in which fault was split in an unusual way. In Lasley v. Combined Transport Inc. and Clemmer, a traffic accident caused by Combined Transport caused traffic to back up. In the resulting pileup, Judy Marie Clemmer ran her vehicle into a stopped pickup truck, killing Mark Alan Lasley. Lasley’s father sued both Clemmer and Combined Transport, and ultimately won a jury verdict that found Clemmer 78 percent at fault and Combined Transport 22 percent at fault. Combined Transport appealed and won a reversal; the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that the jury should have heard evidence that Clemmer was intoxicated. Ultimately, the Oregon Supreme Court agreed, finding that Clemmer’s intoxication was relevant to the apportionment of fault.
Combined Transport lost part of its load of glass on Interstate 5 near Portland. Mark Lasley was caught in the resulting traffic, and Clemmer rear-ended his stopped truck, pushing it into a semi and causing leaks in the fuel lines that instantly caused a fatal fire. Clemmer later pleaded guilty to manslaughter and driving under the influence. Lasley’s father sued both parties. Before trial, Clemmer admitted to negligence in driving at an unsafe speed and not paying attention, causing the death. On the basis of that pleading, the court agreed to Lasley’s motion to exclude evidence of Clemmer’s criminal convictions. Ultimately, the jury apportioned 22 percent of the fault to Combined Transport and 78 percent to Clemmer. However, Combined Transport won a reversal from the Oregon appeals court. It ruled that Clemmer’s intoxication was relevant to both whether Combined Transport’s actions were a substantial cause of the death, and to the calculation of fault. The plaintiff appealed.
The Oregon Supreme Court upheld the ruling in part and reversed in part, finding that Clemmer’s intoxication was relevant only to the calculation of fault. The high court agreed with Consolidated Transport that juries must consider each defendant’s conduct together, but disagreed that defendants should be relieved of all liability if their contribution to the harm was insignificant compared to other defendants’. In this case, the Supreme Court found, Consolidated Transport’s conduct was a substantial factor because if it had not spilled its glass all over Interstate 5, Lasley would not have been stopped. And expert testimony showed that if he had been driving at highway speeds, a rear-end accident with Clemmer would likely not have killed him. Thus, Clemmer’s intoxication was irrelevant to the crash’s causation. However, the high court agreed with the appeals court that it was relevant to apportionment of fault, so it ordered a new trial only on the limited issue of each defendant’s fault. A dissent argued that Consolidated Transport should not get a new trial because its deficient pleadings, rather than a mistake by the trial court, were the reason the jury did not consider Clemmer’s intoxication.
This is relevant to my work as a St. Louis tractor-trailer accident lawyer because more than one defendant is very commonly involved in trucking accident cases. Most typically, the defendants are the truck driver and his or her trucking company; they can also be third-party drivers or the local government agency responsible for the road. When this is the case, the jury must apportion fault to each individual defendant. Unfortunately, most individuals, including drivers of cars as well as truckers, don’t have the financial resources to pay a big jury verdict, even when one is obtained. That’s why even a finding of little fault, as in this case, is still important to my clients. As a southern Illinois commercial truck accident attorney, my goal is to get my clients the best possible recovery, and sometimes that means recovering what little money is appropriate from a bigger defendant.

If you were seriously injured or lost a loved one in a serious crash caused by a trucker’s negligence, don’t hesitate to call Carey, Danis & Lowe for help. For a free, confidential evaluation of your case, send us a message online or call 1-877-678-3400 today.
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