Safety and OSHA News

Worker left dead horse in road; now company is out $2.7M

Imagine this: A driver for your company hits and kills a horse in a work vehicle. What is the responsibility of your employee and company to other motorists on that road?

That scenario has cost a company in Washington state $2.7 million.

The horse had been hit and killed by an employee driving a utility bucket truck owned by Sprint’s subsidiary, United Telephone Co. of the Northwest. The driver said he left the scene to get help. It was after sunset, and the road was dark.

A car Nanette Aurdal was driving struck the dead horse. An eyewitness said Aurdal’s car became airborne before crashing back to the pavement.

Aurdal sustained a full-body whiplash, pulling her spine, nerves and muscles so severely that she had to get an implanted pump to administer pain medication directly into her spinal cord.

The injuries made it impossible for her to have children, and she has gone into debt because of her medical bills. She also quit her job and was forced to close her family business.

Her lawyer argued that the utility truck driver had flares, cones and other safety devices in the vehicle that could have been used to warn other drivers and prevent Aurdal’s crash.

A jury awarded Aurdal $2.7 million. The company hasn’t commented or said whether it plans to appeal.

Do you think the company was liable because its driver left the scene of the crash with the horse? Let us know in the Comments Box below.

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Comments

  1. Not know all the details of the incident, it is hard for us as the public to judge, but there are a few unwise decisions that point the blame to the company. Leaving the scene of any accident pretty much nullifies any defense you may ever hope to have. On the other hand, it is well known that injuries in an accident seem to increase four-fold once lawyer become involved, so on the face, the punishment seems a little harsh. It just show that we need to be a little wiser in what we do when accidents happen.

  2. Absolutely! The driver created the hazard and had the opporunity to safe guard other from the hazard if he had used the safety equipment (mandated to be in the truck) thus minimizing the chance of a second collison. Besides in today’s world of technology and given the fact he worked for a communication company why didn’t he have or use his cell to call someone?

  3. The company had flares, cones, and other safety devices in the vehicle. Assuming he was trained to deploy these in the event of an accident, when does it stop being the companies fault and start holding the person who didnt use the safety/warning devices accountable?

  4. Isn’t a driver supposed to drive in a manner that allows them time to react to unexpected road conditions. If my headlights only light up 200ft, I need to be able to stop within 200 ft. If I can only see 100 feet ahead because of a curve in the road, I need to be able to stop within 100 ft. What if a tree branch that fallen in the road instead. I realize nobody drives that way, but we’re supposed to.

    The truck driver made a poor decision. Not a surprise after traumatic event like having an accident with a horse. The description of accident sounds like Ms. Aurdal may have been driving a little fast as well. In any event, the real guilty party is not even mentioned. Isn’t the horse owner responsible for keeping the horse out of the road.

    Summary of story: A lawyer is involved so the injured person is never at fault and the utility company has more assets than the horse owner.

  5. Going back to the very beginning of this incident, why did the truck driver leave the scene of the accident? I find it hard to fathom the company truck and driver not having the ability to secure the scene with flares, cones, 4-ways on his truck – and use his cell phone to summon help. Were that not possible, he should have secured the scene, and flagged down the next vehicle in an attempt to request aid.

  6. Jason F says:

    Dave B-
    I’m glad you mentioned the horse OWNER. Your summary of the story is dead-on but don’t count the lawyer out yet on going for the horse owner next!

  7. SafetyMan says:

    So this guy drives for a phone company and he couldn’t CALL for help? No cell phone available to him? Yes, he and the company should be liable for the woman’s injuries.

  8. Come on he works for a phone company….He has a radio and telephone right in the truck….

  9. It would depend on the State you were in as to if the horse owner is at fault. In AZ it is open range and you must fence animals out. The Highway Dept. must fence the roadways in AZ to keep the livestock off. So if Washington has the same laws the horse owner is not at fault. Also if it is a fence in State, the fact that someone may have cut your fence for access (ATV, motorcycle, other horse riders) may be factor. The State has gotten out of lawsuits here in AZ due to fence cutters.

  10. Reality Check says:

    I completely agree with Dave B. A lot of this comes down to–When are people going to take responsibility for their own actions??? Maybe the woman should be sued by PETA for mutilating an already dead animal, or better yet, sue the horse’s ancestors for breeding and birthing the horse that got hit……….then they could sue the horse’s owner’s parents for not raising their child to be more responsible with his/her horses…..Again WTF is wrong with being responsible for your own actions?? Anyway, that woman must’ve been drunk or high to get airborne off a dead horse……..Think about it for one second…….how fast do you have to be going anyway without seeing a big frickin’ horse dead in the road, and not hit your brakes to at least slow down?? If she would have hit her brakes, as most people do when they see a huge blob laying in the road, the front end of her car would go down towards the road, not up enough to get air off the damn thing. And people wonder why guys have higher car insurance rates than women do—time to turn the tables I think.

    SafetyMan needs to get the facts that maybe, just maybe, the horse wasn’t a miniature horse, and was full grown, possibly weighing, oh, I don’t know, 800-1000 pounds!!! That accident could have rendered electrical in the vehicle from working—-also, has your cell phone battery EVER DIED??? Think of all the possibilities before making a snap decision there big guy.

    One more thing to add…….This happened in the State of Washington. Now lets just think about that for a minute…………………………………Northwestern US, lots of trees, not very populated, most people are not out on the back roads later at night…………..how long would he have had to wait before someone came along??? Who really knows??

    There are way too many variables involved to make a sound judgement call about this one.

  11. Regardless of why the driver felt he needed to leave the scene of the accident, it is his responsibility as a human being, to mark the site in such a way to minimize the chances of another accident occurring. I find it very hard to believe that his radio, telephone, flares, cones, hazard lights, etc. were all nonoperational at the same time. Unless it can be proven that the company knew the truck’s radio didn’t work and it was not stocked with safety equipment and sent the driver out in it anyway, it’s solely the driver’s fault. Maybe if the second driver wasn’t speeding, her injuries would have been less severe, but it’s likely she still would have been injured when she hit the unmarked horse.

  12. Interesting also that some folks think the girl should have easily been able to see the dead horse lying in the road and been able to stop. But no word as to the truck driver – who was not able to stop even though the horse was presumably alive and upright when he hit the thing. And it was earlier in the day so if anything, the light may have been better when he came along. If someone put and object that was 2 feet tall or less on the road (does it matter what it weighs?), that is a very similar color as the road (we don’t have that info here), would everyone be able to see and recognize that hazard as easily at night as a stopped vehicle with it’s hazard lights on? Or a flare? For those of you who seem to think it was not this man’s responsibility to make sure the scene was safe has a different code than what I live by. I would never leave anything in the road without adequate warning. I’d stay with it all night if I had to. If the responsibility legally extends to the company then it is what it is unless we want to change the laws. Griping about it won’t change anything.

  13. HR in GR says:

    RealityCheck:
    I completely agree with you….The driver may not have had signal (it was a Sprint sub-contractor) and that time of the night, alone, even with flares, he could have been injured by the woman driving in what would appear to be too fast for conditions. Then would the tide be turned? You betcha, she could have then sued the driver (for being in her way, blocking the view horse), the company, the state, the horse owner, etc., etc.

    It never ceases to amaze me the kind of suits that greedy lawyers/people can win. Tort reform anyone???

  14. Can anyone tell me if the girl saw the horse before she hit it? And what speed she was traveling and whether she was over or under the speed limit? What was the geography? Was the horse just over the crest of a hill? Do you ALWAYS slow down to 5 mph or less as you crest every hill on a roadway for fear that there may be a dead horse in the road? Hey, maybe the girl was going 90 in a 15 mph zone. I don’t know, but I think in order to do an adequate investigation and get to the root cause you have to ask and answer these questions rather than assume one party or the other was guilty. One thing that is not at question is the fact that someone left a dead horse in the roadway without marking it. Saying that you should always leave a dead horse in the roadway at night because someone might hit you as you try to warn them or worse sue you for it – I just can’t fathom that type of attitude from someone reading a safety blog.

  15. Reality Check says:

    I agree with what some of Rick says, but a keynote speaker I attended, finished his morning speech by saying that we as safety professionals need to go one more step and do things that we normally wouldn’t do, or do things that others are too afraid to stand up for and do themselves but wished someone would. In this case, even though we do not have all of the facts about the case, I think that someone who has hit a deer, knows what kind of damage an animal of only 150-200 lbs can do to a vehicle, let alone, in some cases, kill people. Think about what a horse can do………They can run up on the road without anyone suspecting that to happen, just like a raccoon, opossum, deer, rabbit, squirrel, etc etc can do. The BIG difference is that horses are huge animals in comparison to all of the others. That is why it is called an accident. If someone runs into the back of your car, and you in turn, hit the car in front of you………..Guess who is at fault for hitting the car your car just hit?? Newsflash people—–You are because you were following TOO CLOSE!!!!!!!!!!!

    A judge needs to come along and start a common sense court and tell some of these people that they are idiots and need to be fixed so they cannot reproduce!!

  16. sheralroh says:

    The driver should not have left the scene. It doesn’t matter how fast the girl was going. It never said in the article that she was speeding. If the bucket truck was able to leave the scene of the accident, then he should have been able to push the horse to the side of the road or even towed it to the side of the road. I believe that the telephone co. is totally responsible and should pay.

  17. If you click on the link on “That scenario,” there is an article with more details. For example, the horse was black.

  18. txbigfoot says:

    Absolutely, the company that employed the driver should be held responsible as should the owner of the horse.
    My family had this same issue when I was a child. Our horse got on the highway and was hit by a motorist. My parents were held responsible for the damages. Fortunately, no one was injured, except the horse of course, which had to be put down.

  19. Left the scene to get help???????? Works for the telephone company? The one person in the US without a cell phone?? I don’t think so. You don’t leave the scene of an accident. Guilty and liable. If it were me, I’d have gone for more than 2.7M. What kind of life can she have now? And I’m no bleeding heart liberal.

  20. The evening the accident took place there was a storm that had blown a branch down on the fence the horse was secured in and the horse got out. The owner attempted to catch the horse (they where sued as well for the record) but is was spooked and ran off and made it’s way to the road. The Sprint driver hit the horse while and left the seen (unfortunatley) leaving the horse lay on the side of the roade with its body on the shoulder and it’s feet on just into the lane over the fog line (as testified to by the horse owner, his employee and the sprint worker although Mrs. Aurdall says it was in the middle of the road). The second drive on to come along avoided the animal but didn’t stop either but rather went up the road to turn around. When the Mrs. Aurdall hit the horse that evening she told all parties on site (owner, sprint worker, sheriff) that she was fine and declined medical evaluation. After the horse was removed Mrs. Aurdall was driven home in her own vehicle (the one that struck the horse).

    Just before the statute of limitations and five doctors (only the 5th said she was injured from the horse injuryif injured) later Mrs. Aurdall filed suit against the sprint company, horse owner and the driver of the sprint truck.

    In court she showed up once to court siting because she couldn’t sit through more than about 45 minutes and yet she sat through 5 hours of depositions with no problems and was shopping in a neigboring town (takes about 40 minutes by car) the day the jury was deliberating.

    As a local person that knew all the persons involved this whole situation seems suspect since Mrs. Ardell’s testimony and depositions derictly conflict with that of all the other parties at the seen and since the Sheriff’s deputy didn’t keep great records since no one seemed to be hurt and the car no major damage on the seen it is hard to show the truth but most signs seem to point to someone who just worked the system in a big way.

  21. T.R.

    As you can see by my previous post, what you have said here is what I suspected when I first read this article. The way the description of the injuries were reported here made me suspect from the beginning that they were lawyerized. Thanks for the more accurate details.

  22. Like Jim said above… this is a communications truck. He should have called someone and not left the scene of the accident or waited for the next car along and asked them to call 911 for him. If he had cones, which all of these trucks do, then he should have put them out, left his emergency flashers going and warned other motorists that the hazard was ahead.

    This was the fault of the tech for the phone company.

  23. A case of hit and run. He should have gotten a rope, or even an extension cord and pulled the horse off to the side of the road. It’s a lot easier to see a horse standing in the road then a lump laying in the road. Yes the company should have been liable for this less then honarable employee.

  24. CDR has the right answer except if the state or county is open range then the horses,cows goats or any domestic creature has more rights on the road then the vehicles does. In fact if you or I hit a horse on the road in the open range area you the driver (or company) is responsible for the cost to the farmer. I am totally against open range but we do have several places in the US where open range is a law. As for the driver of the truck. He is mostly at fault for leaving the scene of the incident but also the lady in the car was going way to fast for conditions so she is partially to blame too. You know if he works for the telephone company he has a two-way radio in his truck.

  25. I agree the biggest fault here is that the driver of the truck should have stopped and that automatically makes it a hit and run situation although if you saw this poor man anwering questions on the stand your heart would break because he truley believed he was keeping himself safe by not breaking policy of backing up the vehicle on the road without assistance and he didn’t want to get hit himself in the dark. That said he should have used his radio or cell to avoid a further accident.

    I will still question how the second person on seen could have lowed and moved around the leg of the animal and chose not to stop as well and yet Mrs. Aurdall could not avoid the animal?

  26. Five years ago, I was driving the Mass Turnpike after dark. I saw a disabled truck on the shoulder and moved to the left lane in case there was anyone walking around the truck. I was immediately confronted by a two foot high wall of fur and when my little VW New Beetle struck it at 65 mph, I was, indeed, airborne. My car limped a mile and a half to the service area, leaking all sorts of fluids. I was shaken up, but uninjured. I never even bothered to find out what trucking company hit and killed the moose that caused $5,000 worth of damage to my car, or why the driver had not put out flares within the first five minutes of hitting it. I paid the deductible and went about my business.

    In light of Ms Aurdal’s settlement, wonder if I was a fool not to have sued.

  27. If the company has trained the driver as to how to respond to an accident, and proivided the tools and equipment to do so, and the driver fails to follow the company policy and training, I don’t see how the compnay can be liable for the actions of the driver contrary to company policy. If that is the case, I would have a tough time ever having off site employees, and in the near future, would not be able to insure my company if I do.

  28. Safety Lady says:

    STC you did the right thing. If people would stop being so sue happy then safety geeks like us would not argue almost every decision made by the comp commission or the courts. After reading the above article and all the responses this far, I think that the phone company needed a better lawyer. If you have to go to not 1 not 2 but 5 doctors before you can get one to agree that you where hurt do to an accident that doesn’t sound right to me. However, the driver should have used the flares, cones or whatever he had at his disposal to mark the site.

  29. Annehearsall says:

    Thank you for the reality check T.R.! Good to read the rest of the story. It is amazing how easily one can sue now a days! (at the expense of others) Very Disturbing. I would say that the woman should be ashamed of herself. AS for the Phone guy,,,, he probably could have done more but I do not think he is to blame. As for the horse owners, fences break, I get that, but they should have never quit trying to get that horse back into a corral. I have been in the same place, my horses getting out for some reason, but I blocked the road and did not give up until my horses were safely home. Warning signs can be posted.

  30. Ummmmmm Many times injuries do not show up immediately I can personally attest to that as well as more problems cropping up as time goes on…….Also injuries have waxing and waning symptoms pain pumps are not installed to treat someone’s spine on a whim. I am male and have (among other physical pain problems) fibromyalgia and I live in pain it is not nice…..I also do a lot of safety management where I work. So the comments about her sitting or driving between perhaps having a good day and the medication being pumped into her spine may have made this possible. I received my injury at work at 10:00 pm when conducting Safety Training in 1993. The incident seemed minor I assured my co-workers I was okay the next day spasms set in I have now been hospitalized three times have brain damage from falling and hitting my head took a demotion at work of over $14, 000.00 so I could keep working to maintain myself.

    I am sharing this because the lady in question may indeed have been injured seriously (the pain med pump) do you have any idea the cost and pain suffered to install and refill that thing? But I also know even with some strong meds I take there are days I have extreme difficulty just getting out of bed and making it to work never mind the tortue of the day.

    Please, Please people ease up on this lady for you do not go for a surgery if it is not necessary and pain pumps are not installed lightly just as many injuries may not show up immediately…..There can be a lag from a day to a few months just read material on pain management. Before I found the Dr that brought me this far I saw 43 Drs and 3 pain clinics 6 months of psycho therapy an 8 week program of 16 – 35 injections to my spine that restored movement but did nothing for pain I also did acupuncture Physical therapy bio feed back hypnosis chiropractic (nearly put me back in bed) and many other therapies sometimes there is no cure………

    Just a few thoughts

  31. Regardless of what the employee thought, he has a responsibility to protect others from harm do to the aftermath of an accident that he was involved in. As a company employee, opperating a company vehicle, working on company business, or returning from company business(it is unclear from the story if that was the case)he is a representative of the company and therefore the company should be liable for dammages caused by his neglegence, The Driver did not use good judgement in this case and unfortunately the company paid the price.
    One can only wonder if the driver had received any safety training that would have clearly told him what his obligatations were under these circumstances. I am not 100% sure, however I would think that the State driving Manual, the one everyone is supposed to read prior to getting their license, covers the responsibility of a driver involved in an accident to protect as much as possible, others from harm do to the results of an accedent that he is involved with.
    If TR’s account of the story is accurate; it is just another reason why Tort Reform is needed in this country. However that is irrelevent in this cases. Since this is a safety bulletin, and safety should be the focus of the discussion. From a safety point of view the employee was 100% at fault and exposed his company to whatever the outcome was. Whether it was poor judgement, lack of training, or the driver left the scene to cover up something. When opperating a vehicle on behalf of the company, the company is liable for dammages caused as a result of unsafe opperation of same.

  32. Quite frankly, I doubt the driver’s story of going for help. More likely – and this is conjecture – he was hoping to avoid having to report hitting the horse. If he was driving a utility truck with the heavy steel bumper, he could have struck the horse with little to no damage to that type of vehicle. However, since there were witnesses to the plaintiff hitting the horse, there were probably witnesses to the defendant hitting the horse as well.

    I would like to know if the truck driver actually returned to the scene or if he was tracked down by law enforcement before he could “get help”. I’m very defense-oriented in my thought process, but something just seems fishy about his whole story of leaving the horse lying in the road while he went for help.

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