Companies, drivers to pay $26.5M in fatal road rage crash
May 16, 2019
Two trucking companies and three drivers for the companies have been ordered to pay nearly $26.5 million after a federal jury in Oregon found the parties responsible for a fatal crash that was caused by a road rage incident.
On May 10, an Oregon jury determined that Brigham City, Utah-based Smoot Brothers Transportation and Wakarusa, Ind.-based Horizon Transport were liable for $26.5 million in damages for a crash that killed Sara Allison and injured her husband, Matthew Allison.
Also named as defendants were Smoot drivers James Decou and Peter Barnes, as well as Horizon driver Jonathan Hogaboom.
According to the lawsuit, Hogaboom was hired by Horizon to drive an RV for commercial purposes despite the fact that Hogabomm had previously been fired from his position as a truck driver. The circumstances behind losing the trucking job were not revealed in the complaint.
In June 2016, Decou, Barnes and a third driver not named as a defendant each drove a Smoot Brothers tractor-trailer from Salt Lake City to Eugene, Ore. Plaintiffs allege that the three drivers coordinated aggressive and illegal passing of motorists.
It was during this trip that the Smoot Brothers drivers encountered Hogaboom near Mountain Home, Idaho. According to the complaint, Smoot’s drivers antagonized Hogaboom by driving aggressively, including passing the RV in a no-passing zone and honking at him, prompting Hogaboom to honk at each of the three trucks and flip them off. Hogaboom also is accused of illegal passing.
At one point on Highway 20 near Burns, Ore., Hogaboom was behind Barnes, with the other two Smoot drivers behind Hogaboom. Decou was immediately behind Hogaboom and the third driver behind Decou.
Despite the fact the truckers were in a no-passing zone on a highway with one lane in each direction, Barnes communicated to the other two Smoot drivers that it was OK to pass the RV driven by Hogaboom. While Decou was attempting to pass the RV, Hogaboom honked his horn and sped up, refusing Decou to pass him or even return to the westbound lane all four vehicles were traveling on. Even when Decou slowed down to retreat behind the RV, so did Hogaboom. This game of cat and mouse continued, effectively leaving Decou in the eastbound lane while traveling westward.
At this time, the Allisons were driving eastbound on Highway 20. Sara, noticing Decou’s truck speeding towards them in the eastbound lane, veered off the highway to the south. Decou, aware that he could not enter the westbound lane, also veered to the south, striking the car. Sara was killed while Matthew was seriously injured.
Decou was arrested for first and second degree manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and assault in the third degree. He later pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter. Furthermore, Smoot and Decou were found to have falsified logbooks and violated hours of service regulations.
A lawsuit was filed against the two companies and three of the four drivers in October 2017.
On May 10, a jury awarded $7.6 million for Matthew Allison’s damages and more than $12.4 million for Sara Allison’s damages. Punitive damages against Smoot and Decou amounted to $1.5 million while Horizon and Hogaboom were hit with $5 million in punitive damages. In total, nearly $26.5 million was awarded to the plaintiffs.