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A pickup truck veered off the roadway, crashed into a tree and went up in flames on Highway 8 near McCleary on Saturday. The driver of the truck was killed and the passenger, Puyallup’s Paul Orris, was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in critical condition.

Matthew A. Lingley, a 26-year-old Graham man, was driving a 1988 Ford flatbed truck eastbound on Highway 8 when the truck left the roadway to the right at 1:40 p.m., traveling off the grassy shoulder, through brush and into a large tree.

After the truck caught on fire, the driver was trapped in the vehicle and died at the scene. Medics pulled the passenger, Mr. Orris, from the vehicle and airlifted him to Harborview.

The exact cause of the accident has not yet been determined. Consequently, three scenarios are likely.

First, one-car accidents like this one often occur as a result of a defect or malfunction with the car (or defective tires) itself. If this is the case, then both the driver’s family and the passenger probably have valid claims under Washington’s Product Liability Act, which tends to be very consumer-friendly. The driver’s family can use the provisions of the Product Liability Act along with provisions from Washington’s wrongful death statutes, which give the family of a person killed as a result of someone else’s negligence a cause of action to recover damages.

Second, the accident could have resulted from a defect in the design and/or maintenance of the highway or road itself. If this is the case, then the passenger and the driver (and his family) have a potential claim against the government entity (city, county or state) who is in charge of designing and maintaining the roadway.

Third, if there was not a malfunction or defect with the car and the accident was a result of the negligence of the driver, then the passenger has a valid claim against the driver (even though they were riding in the same car). The passenger is likely covered under both the driver’s liability insurance policy and his own underinsured motorist (“UIM”) policy, if the driver’s limits are insufficient to cover the total amount of damages.

For more information on this subject matter, please refer to our section on Car and Motorcycle Accidents.

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