Losers in road rage case want new trial
By PHIL WRIGHT
PENDLETON — The transport company that lost in a record-setting wrongful death lawsuit in federal court in Pendleton wants a do-over.
Matthew and Sara Allison vacationed in Oregon in June 2017 and were returning to their home in Boise when a semi in the wrong lane on Highway 20 near Burns hit their car head-on. Sara Allison died.
Matthew Allison suffered a slew of injuries and sued two trucking companies and their drivers in federal court, alleging the drivers were reckless and engaged in road rage antics that led to the deadly crash. Jurors after a trial lasting 10 days this past May in Pendleton awarded $26.5 million to Allison and the estate of his late wife.
Indiana-based Horizon Transport has to pay most of that award. The company plus its driver, Jonathan Hogaboom of Michigan, through Portland attorney Jonathan Henderson, filed a motion in early July for a new trial. Magistrate Judge Patricia Sullivan, who presided over the trial, took up the request Wednesday afternoon in the federal courtroom in Pendleton.
Henderson delivered several arguments for a new trial, starting with the size of the award, which in court documents he described as “shocking” and reason alone for a new trial. The amount of the award, he said, was larger than any for similar cases in Idaho or Eastern Oregon. But he primarily See Road rage, Page A7
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complained the court committed several errors that prejudiced the jury.
Oregon State Police Trooper Kim Waddell should not have testified about Hogaboom’s lack of credibility, Henderson said, and the plaintiff’s attorney Steve Brady was out line to argue in the closing argument for the jury to punish the out-of-state corporations.
“This is the theme that runs through this entire closing,” Henderson said. “And that is something that has never been permissible.”
He also argued the court was wrong to allow the plaintiffs to show an animation depicting the events leading up to the crash because it also was too prejudicial.
Sullivan throughout did not buy much of what Henderson was selling. She pointed out the defense team did not object to that closing at trial.
“If you want to preserve your error, you’ve got to object,” she said.
And Hogaboom himself told the jury he lied and changed his story. The state trooper’s testimony amounted to confirmation of facts, Sullivan said, and the animation served only as a demonstration of the events.
Portland attorney Tom D’Amore for the Allisons said the judge nailed most of the points he would have made, but federal court rules provide three reasons for a new trial, and the defendants don’t meet the standards.
He and fellow attorney Steven Brady explained federal courts can grant new trials if verdicts relied on false testimony, if the outcome amounted to a miscarriage of justice or if the verdict is contrary to the weight of the evidence. The verdict here, Brady said, relied on the weight of the evidence.
“This was not given out of left field,” he said.
Sullivan told the attorneys she would read all their arguments, check out their references to case law and then deliver a ruling.
She also said this looks like the defendants were working on an appeal, and her fellow federal judge, Ann Aiken in Eugene, has offered to try again to help the sides settle the case. Sullivan asked the parties to consider that option before the lengthy process that would leave Matthew Allison and his wife’s estate waiting.
Matthew and Sara Allison beam in a photo taken in front of Crater Lake, their last bit of Oregon sightseeing, before leaving to return home to Boise in June 2017.