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The Oregonian: $9 million award for couple hit while biking in the Gorge


Screen grab from The Oregonian.

The Oregonian reported earlier this week that a jury has awarded more than $9 million to a couple who were hit by a truck driver while biking on I-84 in the Columbia River Gorge.

According to The O, the collision happened in 2016 when Eric Moutal and Andrea Newman (both from Vancouver, BC) were biking to Portland on the westbound shoulder of the Interstate about seven miles east of Cascade Locks (near Wyeth Trailhead at mile post 52). Eric suffered severe injuries to his leg.

When I read about this case, two big things stood out to me.

First, if Eric and Andrea did this ride today, the collision would have never happened. That’s because there’s now an off-highway alternative thanks to the completion of the latest section of the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail. Instead of the very dicey and stressful shoulder this couple was forced to use, they would have been enjoying the beautiful new section of path known as the Summit Creek Viaduct, safely away from the Interstate.

(Quite a difference in conditions they would have had today, compared to 2016. Thanks ODOT!)

This crash and its aftermath underscores the urgency of building safe places for people to ride — especially in places where they have no other option. I recall the 2014 incident that killed Hood River resident Ellen Dittebrandt as she pedaled just a few miles east of where Eric and Andrea were hit and I’m thankful for the work of the Oregon Department of Transportation and the Friends of the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail to complete the path.

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The other part of this story that will stick with me is how the truck driver’s lawyers tried to blame the bike riders. The lawyer representing the trucker’s employer, shipping company DHL, tried to convince the jury that the bicycle riders had drifted over into the adjacent lane. He tried to say the collision was their fault. The driver himself added to this lie by claiming he couldn’t do anything to avoid Eric and Andrea. This type of blame game is extremely common in cases like this. As if it’s more likely that a person would willfully subject themselves to possible death or injury than it is likely that a driver of a large truck might swerve a few feet into the shoulder.

Unfortunately in many of these cases the victim isn’t alive to defend themselves in court and we don’t have reliable witnesses. I’m very happy that this time justice was served and the truth came out.

Read more about the case in The Oregonian.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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