Mother fights to change state law after her sons witness sibling - KPTV - FOX 12

Mother fights to change state law after her sons witness sibling’s death

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(Family photo) (Family photo)

Loved ones who witness the sudden injury, or death of a family member can now file a lawsuit seeking damages for emotional stress. It's all because of the tragic of death of one Oregon boy and his mother's fight to change state law.

Prior to the recent Supreme Court ruling, Oregon was one of only four states that required those seeking damages in a suit to also experience a physical injury themselves. The court's decision now recognizes a person's emotional injuries can be just as damaging as physical wounds.

It's a ruling that came to be all because of Madras mother, Stacie Philibert.

Philibert was always very strict about where her three boys could walk on their own.

"We have what's called safety route, they could only go one way and one way only, and that's a way that I say they can go," said Philibert.

A four block walk to summer camp on that safety route through the town of Madras seemed like an OK thing to let her boys do on their own.  Domanick, then 12, offered to watch over his younger brothers Cameron, then 9, and Austin, then 7, the whole way.

That decision she made five years ago still haunts her.

"Seven minutes later the phone rang and it was Cameron. All I heard was, 'mom, Austin got hit by a car,'" said Philibert.

Austin was hit by a pickup truck as he crossed the intersection of 5th and D street. Court records show the walk signal was activated and his three brothers were in the crosswalk when happened. Domanick and Cameron were inches away from being hit themselves.

"I went running out of the house barefoot and got to scene of the accident before the ambulance was there. So, they had just backed up the pickup and were doing CPR on him when I showed up," said Philibert.

Austin died right there in front of his brothers.

Philibert says her boys were never the same after that. They blamed themselves, grew depressed and suffered from PTSD.

"For probably about two years after, I could hear Domanick screaming in his room, he'd wake up screaming Austin's name," Philibert said.

Oregon law at the time prevented her family from seeking any compensation for her surviving sons, because they weren't physically hurt in the crash. So, she turned to Bend attorney Tim Williams for help.

"Stacie came to me and told me about the accident and how horrific it was for Austin and her boys. As a father of two little kids, that's what resonated with me," said Attorney Tim Williams.

Working together the two began a grueling battle with the legal system to change Oregon law. Others had tried before without success.

"If Domanick was simply tapped on the elbow from the truck he'd be able to collect for everything he witnessed, but because he was a few inches shy from that, the law said you can't collect for anything you witness," said Williams. "What a horrible event to undergo and be a part of as child, you watch a sibling literally be crushed by the weight of a truck."

With help from Portland Appellate Attorney Kathryn Clarke, the three appealed the case all the way to Oregon's Supreme Court.

"The insurance carriers kept coming up and increasing their offer, and increasing their offer to get the claim resolved short of a resolution by the Oregon Supreme Court, but each time Stacie said, 'I don't care how much they offer, I'm not going to take it,'" said Williams. "She wanted to change the law."

After five long years, Stacie and her family got the ruling they had hoped for last December. The courts allowing them to proceed with a $1.1-million-dollar lawsuit seeking damages for her sons' emotional distress.

Sadly, the news came too late for Cameron, who died from cancer just two months before.

"Cameron told me many times, 'Mom, I need to stop treatment I just want to go be with my brother.' I think Cameron only stayed on treatment for so long because he didn't want me to lose another child," said Philibert.

She's endured so much, at times it overwhelms her, though this mother says she takes comfort in knowing her son's legacy lives on through a change in Oregon law.

"I'm happy, hopefully another family won't have to go through this burden. There's not a day that doesn't go by that I don't think about my boys," said Philibert.

The driver in this 2011 crash did stay on scene and cooperated with the investigation. FOX 12 reached out to his lawyer for comment on this ruling, but have not heard back.

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