No one ought to be surprised that the legal aftermath of the awful bus crash on Interstate 84 that killed nine people on Dec. 30, 2012, now includes a lawsuit naming the state of Oregon, and the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), as defendants.
But everyone should be disappointed by this latest ploy, which seeks at least $10 million in punitive damages.
The allegations against the state and ODOT made by attorneys for the estates of three crash victims, and one survivor who sustained severe injuries, are not so much without merit as they are ridiculous.
The lawsuit contends ODOT was negligent for these reasons:
andbull; "failing to sufficiently clean, sand and/or plow" the section of freeway near Pendleton where the bus crashed
andbull; "failing to properly warn vehicle operators of the unsafe conditions along the roadway"
andbull; "failing to require commercial vehicles, including the bus in question, to take an alternative route, given the unsafe conditions"
andbull; "failing to equip the stretch of Interstate 84 in question with barriers of sufficient strength to prevent vehicles, including the bus in question, from departing the roadway in the event of a loss of control"
Yet on the preceding page of the lawsuit the plaintiffs argue that the other defendants - the bus company owner and the driver - were negligent for, among other things:
andbull; "driving too fast under the circumstances"
andbull; "failing to select a safer driving route"
andbull; "failing to possess and utilize appropriate tire chains and/or snow tires or other traction devices"
andbull; "failing to read and obey warning signs along the selected bus route regarding the unsafe and hazardous conditions"
That last claim is the most blatantly inconsistent.
To parse the legalese, the plaintiffs' attorneys are claiming two things simultaneously:
First, that ODOT's warning signs aren't good enough.
And second, that ODOT's signs are detailed enough to alert travelers to "unsafe and hazardous conditions," and the bus driver was negligent for failing to heed that message.
About the only allegation more nonsensical would be suing the National Weather Service for failing to issue forecasts with the reminder that water freezes at 32 degrees, and attaching a thermometer to every mile marker.
As for the contention that ODOT failed to properly maintain the freeway, by that standard the agency would be negligent every time a snowflake sticks on the pavement or a patch of water turns to ice.
It's going to cost a lot more than $10 million to buy enough heaters to prevent those conditions on I-84 through Northeastern Oregon.
Ultimately, of course, this lawsuit is merely an opening salvo, an attempt to cast the net of blame as widely as possible and hope something gets caught.
Preferably something with access to big money, a description much more likely to fit Oregon and ODOT than a Canadian tour bus outfit.
We hope this lawsuit gets the response it deserves: A summary judgment that absolves the state and ODOT from any legal liability in this tragedy.