HOLBROOK—A triple fatality crash that occurred near the “Y” east of Show Low last April has resulted in a civil lawsuit filed against TLC Supported Living Services, Inc., (TLC) and the State of Arizona.
The horrific crash occurred around 7:46 am on SR 61 at milepost 354.9. That’s where authorities say that a TLC white Ford van driven northbound by TLC employee Craig Jackson, 38, of Pinetop allegedly crossed the center line into the opposite lane and collided with southbound vehicle, a silver Dodge Neon, driven by Candy Knudson, 38 of Concho. Knudson died at the scene; van driver Jackson died at the hospital a few hours later. Aaron Staley, 39, of Snowflake one of the special-needs adults in the van died at the scene as well. The other van occupants were injured; both suffered broken bones.
According the DPS report obtained by the Independent, a van occupant said that the van driver had fallen asleep. In fact, the van’s trip to Concho had been cancelled that morning but the TLC driver didn’t get word of that, says DPS.
The plaintiffs in their 11-count suit are Knudsons’s parents, husband and minor son; Staley’s parents, the injured Patricia Bryant and her parents and the injured Cara Roberts and her mother. They claim against TLC under various theories, mainly negligence, or “tort.”
To win a tort claim, the plaintiff must prove four things: That the defendants had a duty of care, breached that duty, that plaintiffs suffered damages and those damages were caused by defendant’s breach of their duty. But they only have to prove each element by “a preponderance of the evidence,” a standard of proof far easier to meet than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard seen in criminal cases. The preponderance standard basically means that plaintiffs must show that it’s “more likely than not” that things happened the way plaintiffs say they did.
As to TLC, plaintiffs say that the duties their driver had can be found in traffic laws, such as the duty to obey traffic control devices (like a solid yellow line that means no passing) the duty to change lanes safely, to not drive the wrong way, and to control a vehicle’s speed to avoid a collision. Other duties can be found in the criminal law plaintiffs say, such as to not recklessly drive, cause injury or death by a motor vehicle, to not commit manslaughter or negligent homicide.
The suit claims the driver breached all those duties which caused major damages to the plaintiffs and because TLC employed the driver, TLC is vicariously liable for the employee’s actions — a well-recognized element of tort law. The plaintiffs do not specify an amount they seek, instead pledging to prove them at trial. They did not sue the deceased van driver, or his estate.
As to TLC itself, plaintiffs allege that TLC had a duty to hire, train, and supervise their employees so that employees would act with reasonable care, and by not having sufficient policies prohibiting exhausted drivers for example, TLC breached that duty thus causing damages. Finally, the plaintiffs seek damages against TLC for “spoilation,” because they did not preserve the van for inspection after they were asked to.
Plaintiffs also sued the State of Arizona, alleging that because the state licensed TLC to perform its services, the state had a duty to make sure that TLC act at all times with reasonable care in providing those services, and the state did not, thus breaching that duty and causing damages.
Some of the breaches alleged by plaintiffs were so egregious that the plaintiffs, they say, are entitled to “punitive damages” to punish defendants for alleged bad acts over and above the actual dollar amount the alleged negligence cost the plaintiffs.
TLC filed its answer and denies everything except that there was a crash, there were fatalities and the driver was their employee. The State of Arizona as of press time has not yet filed its answer.