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Jury awards $300,000+ in crash suit

| June 2, 2004 12:00 AM

By Brent Shrum, Western News Reporter

A jury last week ordered a highway construction company to pay more than $300,000 in damages to a Libby man injured in the crash of a pickup truck driven by his brother-in-law, who was working for the company at the time of the accident.

Zachary St. Onge was awarded $86,393.48 for past and present damages plus $250,000 for future damages. St. Onge was injured on Sept. 13, 2002, when a truck driven by United Rentals Highway Technologies employee Josh Hoffman — who was married to St. Onge¹s sister — went off U.S. Highway 2 at Cedar Creek and flipped.

The award was less than the nearly $1 million St. Onge and his attorney, Charles Sprinkle, had requested from the jury but more than the $200,000 the company had offered to settle the case in April. The trial began on Tuesday, May 25, and concluded on Thursday, May 27. The jury took a little under three hours to deliver its verdict.

St. Onge had traveled with Hoffman to the company¹s work site on Montana Highway 56 on the day of the accident as a prospective employee. He and Hoffman were returning to Libby when the accident occurred.

Hoffman had been provided with a company truck but was driving his own truck because the company truck had broken down. The company reimbursed him for the use of his vehicle. Judge Michael Prezeau ruled before the trial that Hoffman was clearly acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the crash.

Prezeau also ruled in favor of a motion by St. Onge¹s attorney to exclude evidence that Hoffman may have been under the influence of illegal drugs when the accident occurred. According to court documents, Hoffman tested positive for amphetamine following the crash and was initially charged with DUI, but the charges were later dropped in a plea agreement under which Hoffman pleaded guilty to careless driving.

According to Hoffman¹s deposition, he was about four miles west of Libby when he ³went to pass another vehicle and woke up in the hospital.²

St. Onge was thrown from the truck and suffered back and hip injuries. He said in his deposition that he was asleep when the accident occurred and didn¹t remember anything about the crash.