Plaintiffs in truck crash civil suit seek to add accusations

Audrey Caro

Attorneys argued for an hour and a half in Linn County Circuit Court Friday, Feb. 9, over whether additional accusations can be added to a civil lawsuit against the driver of a truck involved in a fatal crash two years ago should be allowed.

The Linn County District Attorney did not issue any criminal charges against Robert Mayfield for the early-morning Jan. 21, 2016 crash on Highway 20, near Bauman Mill, which resulted in the death of Neil Nightingale, whose log truck was struck by Mayfield’s repair truck.

Tamera Lea Nightingale, Neil Nightingale’s widow, filed a civil suit on Feb. 7, 2017, that names Mayfield and Papé Machinery, Inc., the company that owned the repair truck Mayfield was driving, as defendants.

On Jan. 2 of this year, Nightingale’s attorneys filed a motion to add allegations, “the most important of which is that Mr. Mayfield was using a mobile phone illegally immediately before the crash,” according to court documents. It also seeks to add punitive damages.

In court on Feb. 9, Nightingale’s attorney Brent Barton told Judge Fay Stetz-Waters that the plaintiffs have “remarkably precise data” that tells what happened “to the millisecond.”

Barton showed the judge a map of the area where the crash occurred and said a surveillance camera at a location near the incident was recording during the time. The vehicles are not visible through trees at the time of the crash, but it was apparent when the crash happened.

Jonathan Henderson, attorney for Papé, questioned how they could know whether the time on the camera is synced with the time on the cellphone that was analyzed.

He also said there are discrepancies in the times submitted on the two declarations submitted by the forensics expert.

“I do have a supplemental declaration that’s 35 pages I can submit that has everything my expert knows,” Barton said. But he said he did not want to submit that before trial.

Henderson talked about another case that dealt with causation as it relates to cellphone use, in which the decision came down to a matter of 15 seconds.

“I heard counsel saying (Mayfield) was on the phone the whole time,” Henderson said. “No one can say if he was looking at his phone.”

Henderson said that the forensics expert could not testify what Mayfield was about to do.

“Mr. Mayfield wasn’t cited by the police for anything. The statute at issue, the distracted driving statute, as it existed in 2016, only prohibited texting or calling,” Henderson said.

“What that means is, conduct that would not even give a police officer a reason to pull you over, the plaintiffs are saying that that conduct is sufficient to impose $100,000,000 in punitive damages. I’d suggest that that’s taking it too far.”

Stetz-Waters said she would rule on the motion within 10 days.

An eight-day trial is scheduled to begin on June 4.