Survivors in fatal car crash urge judge to declare driver's employer liable

Wednesday , March 14, 2018 - 5:00 AM1 comment

OGDEN — A hospice company should be held liable for an employee’s 81 mph rear-end crash that killed two people during an Interstate 15 stoppage, attorneys for the victims’ relatives assert in court documents.

Canyon Home Care and Hospice employed Uchenna Uzoh of Ogden, whose 2006 Chevrolet Monte Carlo plowed into the back of a Mazda carrying Ryan and Alyssa Chambers of Layton and their two daughters on Aug. 23, 2015. Ryan, 30, and daughter Evelynn, 4, were killed in the crash on northbound I-15 near 4400 South in Riverdale.

RELATED: Wrongful-death suit names 2 drivers in 2015 crash that killed man and daughter

Jeffrey Gooch, attorney for Alyssa Chambers and her surviving daughter, Kaya, who was 7 when the crash happened, has filed a motion in 2nd District Court seeking summary judgment against Canyon Home Care on the grounds that the company was liable for the crash involving its employee.

Alyssa Chambers and Ryan Chambers’ parents, Rodney and Christine Chambers, filed a wrongful death suit on April 28, 2016, against Canyon Home Care, Uzoh, and Adam Sinykin, whose doghouse fell off his truck, causing the traffic tie-up.

Canyon Home Care of Salt Lake City argues it is not liable for the deaths because Uzoh was on her way home after completing home care visits in the Salt Lake area.

“As soon as she stepped out of her last patient's home for the day, she was off the clock,” a company official, Breezie Liskey, testified in a deposition.

Story continues below photo.

Gooch’s motion said Canyon Home Care “should not be allowed to reap the benefits of employing traveling nurses, like Uzoh — requiring them to use their vehicles in carrying out their jobs — while at the same time avoiding any corresponding responsibilities that come with such a business plan by attempting to treat them like your regular office commuter.”

Canyon asked Uzoh to work that Sunday to cover for another care nurse, Gooch said. Uzoh was paid $29 for her work that day and drove 111 miles without reimbursement, he said. 

“Despite this windfall, Canyon Home Care refuses to accept any responsibility,” the motion said. 

Uzoh and Sinykin had “grossly inadequate” insurance policy limits that won’t cover the medical bills and replace the lost earnings of Ryan Chambers, the family breadwinner, Gooch said.

Canyon’s employee handbook, according to court records, says, "If you have an accident while on the job, you are generally covered under our workers' compensation insurance plan or our non-owned auto insurance plan."

But requiring hospice companies to cover nurses on their drives home, the company argued, would result in their “becoming uninsurable, leaving a vulnerable sector of our population — elderly people who cannot leave their home — without adequate care.”

Judge Noel Hyde has taken the issue under advisement.

Meanwhile, Hyde recently signed a settlement order granting Kaya Chambers $33,333 in damages to be held in trust until she turns 18, according to court documents. That sum comes as part of a $300,000 claim awarded by Uzoh’s auto insurance carrier, Mid Century Insurance. The remainder of the sum will be apportioned later in the litigation.

A Utah Highway Patrol investigation determined Uzoh made no attempt to stop before crashing into the Chambers’ car, which was stopped behind a semitruck. The impact pushed the car into the back of the semi.

Uzoh, 32 at the time of the crash, was fined $300 in Riverdale Justice Court on June 6, 2016, after pleading no contest to class C misdemeanor speeding 81 mph in a 70 mph zone, and to an infraction, following too close.

The Weber County Attorney’s Office screened the case but declined to file more serious charges, finding Uzoh had no criminal intent.

“The only thing I remember is an airbag in my face,” Uzoh said in her court deposition.

Sinykin, 41, was cited for failure to secure loose cargo and was fined $310.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The headline on an earlier version of this story was inacccurate. The Standard-Examiner regrets the error.

You can reach reporter Mark Shenefelt at mshenefelt@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @mshenefelt and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SEmarkshenefelt.

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