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I stumbled upon an Oprah re-run yesterday about the Coble family. The episode was about the worst day of people’s lives and how they were able to move on. Their story is heartbreaking and is of a couple that lost all three of their children in a tragic automobile/semi collision. The couple painfully told the story of their losses, the grief process, and what they were able to gain from the loss. The couple resolved to fight to make the dangerous stretch of highway safer in hopes that no one else would have to experience the pain they had.

The remorseful semi driver who caused the collision was convicted of vehicular manslaughter and sentenced to almost a year in prison. It is unclear to me whether a lawsuit was brought against him, but my guess would be that his insurance company resolved the claim with the Cobles before a lawsuit was filed.

After hearing many stories about that stretch of highway, the Coble family eventually decided to file a wrongful death lawsuit against Caltrans, the California Department of Transportation, for allowing the dangerous condition to exist and failing to take measures to correct it. In describing why they decided to file a lawsuit, the Cobles stated:

After the accident we were approached by an enormous amount of people who described their dangerous experiences at the southbound Oso exit. We really didn’t travel that exit much, so our experience was limited. We also wondered why the existing 1998 and 2000 Caltrans reports which noted the dangers at Oso were never addressed over those 10 years.

On their website, the Cobles detail what they learned about Caltran and the roadway throughout the lawsuit and which evidence was presented at trial. A jury determined that the road was not a dangerous condition and the Cobles were then ordered to pay more than $290,000 in Caltran’s fees and costs, on top of what costs they had already paid to bring the case to trial. The Cobles disagree with both decisions and fear that it sends the message to Caltrans that safety is not a priority.

Like the Cobles, many people bring lawsuits to prevent tragedy, promote safety, and to make sure that no one else is forced to suffer the pain that they have. It is not always about money.

The Center for Justice and Democracy has compiled a list of Lawsuits that Protect Us All.


  1. Gravatar for CA John

    Sometimes people need to take self-responsibility serious and not blame the government for what they could've prevented on their own or what could not be prevented.

    If the driver was not at fault, he wouldn't have had to go to jail. People shouldn't sue just because they feel bad or want payback, they have to have a case.

    People please remember, the pay out that may have gone to the Cobles is tax dollars - your dollars.

  2. Gravatar for Alison De Villiers
    Alison De Villiers

    John-thank you for reading and commenting. I agree that people need to take personal responsibility. And I think that those who are at fault need to take responsibility as well. If the burden is not on the at-fault party or parties, then society bears the burden. It just so happens that one of the at-fault parties here may be taxpayer funded, it does not mean they should escape responsibility. Maybe the taxpayers should demand better practices and they will not be sued. If the case had no merit, the judge would have dismissed when Caltran filed a motion for summary judgment.

    I do not think that the Cobles did anything to cause the collision and think that this could have been prevented very easily. The Cobles are fighting to make sure that it is prevented in the future and bringing a lawsuit is one way to force change. People are not often motivated to make change unless their pocketbooks are threatened.

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