CINCINNATI (AP) – A court has ordered Ohio’s Transportation Department to pay $4 million to the family of a woman killed the day after Christmas 2008 when a tree fell on her car while she was driving on a state highway with her 5-year-old son, who was critically injured.
The Ohio Court of Claims previously found that the Department of Transportation was negligent and liable for the death of 40-year-old Traci Reed of New Concord in eastern Ohio. The court ordered Tuesday that the department pay $4 million to Reed’s husband of 14 years, her two children and other family for their loss and their anguish.
“The court is convinced that Traci was a very loving daughter, sister, wife and mother and that her death caused much mental suffering,” the court wrote earlier this year.
The night of Reed’s death, she and her family had celebrated Christmas with husband Michael Reed’s parents and siblings and were returning to their home, where they were planning more celebrations.
Traci Reed was driving her car with her 5-year-old son in the back seat, while her husband and 11-year-old daughter were driving in his truck just ahead of her on State Route 83.
A large tree fell on Reed’s car, which careened off the road and his several more trees and a fence before coming to a stop. Reed was pronounced dead at the scene, while her son survived traumatic brain injuries.
Trial testimony from transportation workers and people living in the area revealed that the hazardous and decaying tree that fell on Reed’s car had been leaning precariously over the roadway for at least a year, with people even commenting that they hoped it would never hurt someone. Other trees also had fallen in the area in the past.
One transportation worker testified that he told his supervisor he was worried about the tree but that it was never removed. The supervisor testified that he knew of the leaning tree but didn’t recall anyone ever expressing concern about it.
Reed’s family argued that the Transportation Department neglected its public safety duties by failing to remove the tree, while the department argued that the tree’s falling was a natural “act of God” outside of its control.
Magistrate Anderson Renick rejected the department’s argument, saying the tree was clearly a hazard, that the department knew about it and could have prevented Reed’s death by removing it.
“ODOT should have known that there was both an unreasonable and foreseeable risk that the tree would fall onto the highway,” Renick wrote.
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