Lasley v. Combined Transport, Inc.

261 P.3d 1215 (2011)

Quick Summary

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Clarence Lasley (plaintiff) sued Combined Transport, Inc. (defendant) and Judy Clemmer (defendant) over his son Mark Lasley’s death caused by a road accident involving Combined Transport’s truck spill and Clemmer’s subsequent vehicle collision. Clemmer admitted to her negligent driving, but Combined Transport denied liability.

The issue centered on whether evidence of Clemmer’s intoxication was wrongfully excluded from trial, impacting jury decisions on causation and fault distribution.

The Supreme Court of Oregon ruled that while intoxication evidence did not affect causation analysis, it was relevant for assessing comparative fault and remanded for a new trial on these grounds.

Facts of the Case

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Clarence Lasley (plaintiff), acting as the personal representative for the estate of his deceased son, Mark Lasley, filed a lawsuit against Combined Transport, Inc. (defendant) and Judy Clemmer (defendant). A tragic accident occurred when a truck owned by Combined Transport spilled large glass panes on a freeway, causing a traffic backup.

Mark Lasley was forced to stop his vehicle due to the spill. Subsequently, Judy Clemmer collided with Mark’s stopped vehicle at such force that it caught fire, leading to Mark’s death. Clarence Lasley claimed that both Clemmer and Combined Transport were negligently liable for his son’s death.

Clemmer admitted her liability, acknowledging her negligence in driving at an unreasonable speed and failing to maintain a proper lookout and control. However, Combined Transport denied any negligence or liability for the incident.

Procedural Posture and History

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  1. Clarence Lasley filed a lawsuit against Combined Transport, Inc. and Judy Clemmer for the wrongful death of his son.
  2. Clemmer admitted liability, but Combined denied liability.
  3. The trial court granted Lasley’s motion in limine to exclude evidence of Clemmer’s intoxication.
  4. The jury found Clemmer 78 percent responsible and Combined 22 percent responsible for the damages.
  5. Combined Transport appealed the decision based on the exclusion of evidence regarding intoxication.
  6. The Oregon Court of Appeals reversed the trial judgment, leading to Lasley’s appeal to the Supreme Court of Oregon.

I.R.A.C. Format


Issue Icon

Whether evidence of Clemmer’s intoxication was improperly excluded from the trial, affecting the jury’s determination of causation and apportionment of fault between defendants in a wrongful death claim.

Rule of Law

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Evidence relevant to the comparison of fault among defendants in a wrongful death claim is admissible. In cases involving multiple defendants, each defendant whose negligence was a factual cause of harm may be held liable. However, evidence is not relevant if it does not affect the causation analysis between co-defendants.

Reasoning and Analysis

Reasoning Icon

The Supreme Court of Oregon dissected whether evidence of Clemmer’s intoxication was pertinent to both the question of causation and the apportionment of fault. The court concluded that Clemmer’s admission of negligence established her conduct as a cause of death; thus, evidence of intoxication would not increase its significance in causation analysis.

However, such evidence was deemed relevant to the apportionment of fault as it could exhibit a greater departure from standard care, thereby influencing the jury’s fault comparison.

The court also discussed the procedural requirements for a defendant to present evidence of a co-defendant’s unpleaded negligence. It determined that Combined Transport should have included allegations of Clemmer’s intoxication in its answer as an affirmative defense rather than in a cross-claim for contribution.

In this unique case, the court construed Combined Transport’s cross-claim as an affirmative defense under ORCP 12, allowing evidence of intoxication to be considered for apportioning fault.


Conclusion Icon

The Supreme Court of Oregon affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals and reversed the judgment of the circuit court. The case was remanded for a new trial limited to determining the degree of fault for each defendant.

Dissenting Opinions

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There were dissenting opinions that disagreed with the majority’s decision to allow Combined Transport’s cross-claim for contribution to be treated as an affirmative defense. They argued that this was not an error or defect that could be overlooked under ORCP 12 B and that it was a complete failure to comply with the pleading requirements.

Key Takeaways

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  1. Evidence of a defendant’s intoxication is relevant to apportionment of fault in a negligence case but not necessarily to causation when another defendant is involved.
  2. A defendant intending to use evidence of a co-defendant’s unpleaded negligence must plead it as an affirmative defense in their answer.
  3. The Supreme Court of Oregon can construe a cross-claim for contribution as an affirmative defense in unique circumstances where procedural requirements were unclear.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What factors are considered when apportioning fault among multiple defendants in a negligence case?

Fault is apportioned based on each defendant’s level of responsibility in contributing to the harm. The court examines the nature and severity of each party’s negligence, the causal connection between the negligent act and the harm caused, and any statutory or case law directing fault allocation.

  • For example: In a car crash involving multiple vehicles, one driver’s excessive speeding might be deemed more culpable than another’s minor traffic infraction, affecting the distribution of fault accordingly.

How does the relevance of evidence to a case's issues affect its admissibility during trial?

Evidence must be pertinent to the matters being decided to be admissible. Its relevance is determined by whether it can make a fact of consequence more or less probable than it would be without the evidence.

  • For example: In a slip and fall case, video footage showing the defendant failing to place a caution sign after mopping is directly relevant and thus admissible to prove negligence.

What are the implications of failing to plead an affirmative defense in response to a complaint?

Failing to assert an affirmative defense typically results in its waiver, barring the defendant from arguing that defense later in the trial.

  • For example: If a defendant doesn’t claim self-defense in response to assault charges, they generally cannot introduce evidence supporting that defense at trial.


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