Three civil lawsuits, spawned by 2016 truck crash, move toward trial

Audrey Caro

A lawsuit filed by the wife of a log truck driver killed two years ago in a collision with another truck is slowly working its way toward a scheduled trial date later this year.

A motion to amend the civil complaint by Tamera Lea Nightingale against Robert Gene Mayfield will be heard in Linn County Circuit Court on Jan. 29.

The Linn County District Attorney did not issue any criminal charges against Mayfield for the early-morning Jan. 21, 2016 crash on Highway 20, near Bauman Mill, which resulted in the death of Neil Nightingale, but Mayfield is named as a defendant in three civil cases.

The collision occurred before 7 a.m. on Jan. 21, when Mayfield was driving a Papé machinery repair truck westbound on Highway 20 near Bauman Mill. His vehicle crossed from its lane of travel to the center turn lane. Mayfield’s truck continued into the eastbound lane where it collided head-on into a 2011 Kenworth log truck, operated by Nightingale.

A 2003 Subaru Legacy, operated by David Briggs, 59, of Lebanon, was also eastbound and collided with the log truck after the initial crash occurred. Briggs did not sustain any injuries, according to police statements at the time.

Mayfield was transported by Life Flight Emergency Air Ambulance to Salem Hospital and was later transferred to OHSU in Portland. Nightingale was transported by REACH Air Ambulance to Good Samaritan Hospital in Corvallis.

Briggs and his insurance company, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, also have filed civil complaints against Mayfield.

Nightingale’s complaint, filed on Feb. 7, 2017, names Mayfield and Papé Machinery, Inc., the company that owned the vehicle Mayfield was driving, as defendants.

The Jan. 2, 2018 motion proposes 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.

According to court documents, Mayfield’s legal team is opposing those motions, arguing that “(the plaintiff) has not submitted admissible evidence to demonstrate (Mayfield’s) use of a cell phone caused or contributed to the (accident); and at the time of the accident, looking at a cell phone constituted, at most, ordinary negligence, which cannot form the basis for the imposition of punitive damages.”

Thomas W. Nelson, a certified forensic computer examiner, filed a declaration in the case regarding a phone he examined, which is owned by Papé and assigned to Mayfield.

Nelson said a program called Fleetsafer, which blocks access for use in moving vehicles unless overridden, was installed on the phone.

“The forensic evidence proves that shortly before the crash, someone overrode the Fleetsafer program on the Papé phone so that it could be used in a moving vehicle,” Nelson stated in his declaration. “I assume this was done by Mr. Mayfield because he was the only one in the truck in the minutes before the crash.”

Nelson said Mayfield opened Facebook messenger, clicked on a conversation within messenger, scrolled through the conversation and selected a phone number.

According to the document, Mayfield “had either just confirmed that he wanted to call the telephone number or was just about to when the record of activity on the Papé phone stops abruptly. Presumably, the phone became a projectile in the crash, cracking the phone’s screen and separating the battery, which had the effect of preserving this electronic evidence.”

Tamera Nightingale’s initial complaint accused Mayfield of negligence and causing injury and death to Neil Nightingale by failing to keep a proper lookout, failing to maintain proper control over his own vehicle, operating a vehicle in the wrong lane of traffic, operating a vehicle in a manner that endangered or would likely endanger a person or property, operating a vehicle at an unreasonable speed and operating a vehicle while under the influence of marijuana.

Mayfield’s response denies those allegations and denies that “he was negligent or that he contributed to the cause of the accident,” according to court documents.

Tamera Nightingale’s suit is asking for $10,000,000 for noneconomic damages, $5,969,796.37 for economic damages and $91,700,000 for punitive damages.

In his complaint against Mayfield, Briggs alleges negligence and is asking for “a sum to be found reasonable by a jury and not to exceed $150,000” for noneconomic damages and $25,000 for economic damages, which includes medical expenses.

On Oct. 30, 2017, Linn County Circuit Court Judge Fay Stetz-Waters consolidated Briggs’ and Nightingale’s cases for trial.

An eight-day trial is scheduled to begin on June 4, 2018.

State Farm is suing Mayfield for property damage and personal injury in the amount of $8,348.31 for collision benefits it paid to Briggs for damage that was done to his vehicle as well as towing and storage.