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Witnessing Sudden Injury or Death of A Family Member

Witnessing the severe injury or death of a family member can have a traumatic impact on survivors. They often require years of counseling or other medical treatments. Based on one family’s tragic experience, an Oregon Supreme Court decision may have paved the way for a new type of lawsuit for family members of personal injury victims to obtain damages for the medical costs and pain and suffering they endure.

The Austin Hollenbeck-Hatch Case

A December 2016 Washington Times report outlines the tragic death of Austin Hollenbeck-Hatch, who was hit by a car while crossing the street on his way to an activity program with his brothers. The accident happened in August 2011, and occurred while Austin and his brothers, who were eight and eleven at the time, attempted to cross the street when the crosswalk light turned green. Unfortunately, as the children entered the road, a pick-up truck driver made a left-hand turn and hit Austin. When the driver got out to check on the boy, he saw that the vehicle tire was on his chest. He got back into his vehicle and backed up to remove the tire, but Austin died seconds later. The driver was later cited for careless driving and failure to stop and remain stopped for a pedestrian.

Despite the fact that the surviving brothers suffered serious emotional trauma from watching Austin die, a thirty-year-old legal decision claimed that victims must suffer physical harm to claim compensation. The case eventually was heard by the Oregon Supreme Court, which ruled in the boys’ favor that the emotional damages they suffered were enough to entitle them to sue for damages.

Post-Traumatic Stress and Survivor’s Guilt

According to Gifts from Within, which offers support and resources for people with post-traumatic stress disorder, it is not uncommon for people who witness tragic and violent acts against loved ones to end up with PTSD or even survivor’s guilt. Symptoms often include:

  • Sleep disturbances and disorders;
  • Increased anxiety and panic attacks;
  • Depression and suicidal thoughts;
  • Acting out or having fits of rage.

Victims may also wonder why it was their family member that was hurt or killed and not them, or keep replaying the details of what happened for signs that it could have been prevented. Reliving these details and questioning your actions in such cases can result in problems with self-esteem and self-loathing, isolation, and difficulties in forming and maintaining relationships with friends and other family members.

We Are Prepared to Help You Today

If you or someone you love has been impacted due to witnessing the injury or death of a family member, contact the Johnston Law Firm today. Due to Austin Hollenbeck-Hatch’s death and the persistence of his surviving family members, others who have witnessed the injury or death of a loved one may finally be able to get the help they need. Call or contact our Portland office online today to schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys.


Marc Johnston

Lead Attorney at Johnston Law Firm, P.C.

Based in downtown Portland, Marc A. Johnston is the owner and managing attorney of the award-winning, internationally-known personal injury law firm, Johnston Law Firm, P.C. Marc's career has been dedicated to representing the injured and individuals who have been treated unfairly by an insurance company. His focus on trial law creates the backbone of the Johnston Law Firm — a firm that is ready to go the distance in seeking justice for its clients.