An attorney for the estate of an Overbrook woman who died from injuries in a January highway crash in Douglas County has filed a lawsuit against several parties seeking $5 million in damages.
Jamie J. Ullery, 47, died about two weeks after the 1 p.m. Jan. 3 crash involving two vehicles on U.S. Highway 56 near Worden. A Kansas Highway Patrol report said Ullery was a passenger in a westbound minivan and that the driver, Joann O’Brien, 76, also of Overbrook, fell asleep and drifted into the eastbound lane before striking an eastbound pickup truck just after O’Brien woke up.
According to the suit filed July 26 in Douglas County District Court, Ullery needed in-home care because of a disability, and Ullery’s two caregivers were O’Brien, who the attorney said is also her mother, and the other passenger in the vehicle O’Brien was driving, Alice Beatty, 51, of Independence, Mo. The suit lists O’Brien and Beatty both as defendants, and identifies them both as employees of Windsor Place At-Home Care, which operates throughout the state.
The suit alleges O’Brien and Beatty took Ullery with them to Lawrence that day for a mandatory training session, and that O’Brien suffered from diabetes, which caused her to fall asleep at the wheel on the way home even though she was “cautioned not to drive” before leaving the training session but “failed to heed that warning.”
Attorney Linus Baker said he filed the lawsuit on behalf of Tracy Ullery, who is the special administrator of Jamie Ullery’s estate and the father of Jamie Ullery’s son.
“We cannot get this settled out of court because it involves a minor,” Baker said. “He’s the sole heir of the estate.”
Baker, who said he had conversations with O’Brien before filing the suit, said the home-care program Ullery participated in was designed so that family members could be made into caregivers. Windsor Place operated the care program through a contract with state agencies.
The suit lists as defendants Windsor Place At-Home Care; O’Brien; Beatty; Monte Coffman, who is executive director of Windsor Place At-Home Care; Health Management of Kansas Inc., which obtained insurance for Jamie Ullery’s benefit; and Darren Othick, a 42-year-old Baldwin City man who drove the other vehicle in the crash.
Baker in one count of the 10-count the suit alleges that Othick was negligent because as a former police officer he was trained in emergency driving situations to avoid head-on collisions by swerving to the right or off the roadway. Baker claims instead he moved his truck to the left of the center line to try to avoid a collision. Othick and his two children, ages 10 and 12, were also injured in the crash.
“Driving into a ditch or off the roadway is far less dangerous than driving into the opposing lane of traffic,” Baker wrote.
The Kansas Highway Patrol report — which listed O’Brien’s inattention and falling asleep as contributing factors — stated that she woke up and tried to slam on her brakes before the crash, but it was too late. The suit alleges O’Brien returned to the correct lane, but then she swerved back left because Othick’s vehicle was traveling in the wrong lane. Then the vehicles “appear to have collided in the middle of the roadway.”
“By Othick traveling in O’Brien’s lane, Othick deliberately gambled that O’Brien would not obey the law,” Baker wrote in the petition.
Attempts to reach Coffman and Darren Othick were not successful Friday.
Chief District Judge Robert Fairchild has not scheduled any hearings in the case.
— Reporter George Diepenbrock can be reached at 832-7144. Follow him at Twitter.com/gdiepenbrock.