Often my heart swells with pride for the work that my firm does because the results from our cases truly make our state safer for everyone. Today is one of those days: In a unanimous decision in Wuthrich v. King County, the Washington State Supreme Court held that a municipality has a duty to take reasonable steps to address overgrown roadside vegetation that makes the roadway unsafe for drivers approaching an intersection.
Today’s decision advances roadway safety for anyone who travels the roads in Washington State. As our state’s highest court maintains: A municipality has the overarching duty to provide reasonably safe roads and must be held to the same standards as that applied to private parties.
Our state’s supreme court now explicitly rejects old law that held that a municipality’s duty is limited to mere compliance with applicable law. Moreover, an “inherently dangerous condition” does not exclusively depend on a condition that “exists in the roadway itself.” A hazard may exist as a situation along a highway, such as overgrown bushes that obstruct drivers’ view of oncoming traffic.
The decision today stems from a June 2011 lawsuit that Guy Wuthrich filed against Christa Gilland and King County. Guy was riding a motorcycle on Avondale Road NE in King County, approaching an intersection with NE 159th Street on June 20, 2008 at about 5:15 PM. Drivers on 159th St. have a stop sign at the intersection, but drivers on Avondale Road do not. Christa Gilland was driver a car on 159th Street. When she reached the intersection with Avondale Rd., she stopped to wait for passing traffic. She did not see Guy approaching from her left. She turned left onto Avondale Road and collided into Guy’s motorcycle, resulting in serious injuries to Guy. The lawsuit alleged that the County was liable for Guy’s injuries because the wall of overgrown blackberry bushes on County property obstructed Ms. Gilland’s view of traffic at the intersection. The trial court dismissed the action against the County on summary judgment. The Court of Appeals affirmed in a split decision.
Some of you may have already seen our Ray Kahler argue before the Supreme Court. But, in case you missed it and want to hear some stellar arguments, click here. Kudos to the entire team, including Ray, Keith Kessler, Garth Jones and Brad J. Moore.
With the quiet launch of the First Hill Streetcar this weekend, I am reminded of client Daniel Ahrendt‘s amazing recovery from his bicycle crash at an intersection, where the streetcar runs. A seasoned commuter cyclist, Daniel was riding his bicycle on the clear and dry morning of May 4, 2015. However, the streetcar tracks posed the same hazard as they always did for cyclists who wanted to ride on that commuter facility at the intersection of Rainier Avenue South, Boren Avenue South, Jackson and 14th Avenue South.
This past Christmas, KOMO TV aired a “Special Report” on Daniel’s road to recovery, after a horrific incident, where he fell, after his tire was caught in the streetcar tracks and a Metro bus ran over him. The story reveals the strength of Daniel’s character and the amazing family that he had that supported him throughout the most challenging year of his life.
Worth noting is that there are international best practices that could have prevented this catastrophic incident. More to come in future blog posts.
I’m often an early adopter of high tech gadgets, when it’s a no brainer. This one will help me stay alive longer and help me ride more safely on my hybrid bike beyond the bounds of my immediate neighborhood. Now, with Garmin’s Varia Bike Radar and Varia Vision, I may just try cycling to work.
Garmin recently bought Varia, a company whose technology focuses on radar designed to improve cyclist safety. Several months ago, Garmin rolled out Varia Rearview Bike Radar. which has a light that attaches to the rear of a bike and scans as far as about 450 feet. It works with a compatible unit that attaches to the bicycle handlebars, to warn the cyclist about what’s behind them and the rate that the object is approaching. (Yes, iKubu introduced a similar, less user friendly product with Backtracker.)
There are also Varia smart lights that adapt to a cyclist’s speed and weather conditions. When a cyclist uses the Varia with a compatible GPS, the Varia headlight will project its beam further ahead and adjust based on the speed of the bike. The tail light will use the same data to increase its intensity as a cyclist decelerates, thus warning traffic behind the Varia-enabled cyclist. What’s also cool is that the beams can automatically adjust in brightness via the GPS unit’s ambient light sensor.
Varia Vision, which also pairs well with the Varia Bike Radar, does almost everything Google Glass did, complete with a touch-sensitive strip on the side, for navigating the device’s UI, that works with wet fingers or while wearing gloves. And because it’s part of the company’s Varia line of cycling devices that was introduced in July of last year, the Vision can also connect to the Garmin Rearview Bike Radar and notify the wearer of a car coming up behind them so they can ensure they’re not riding in its path.
Yes, this technology is more appealing than Google Glass from my perspective. This is especially because sharing the road with increasingly crowded roads with aggressive drivers seems to result in more and more bicycle accidents in Seattle. These Garmin products help reduce cyclist accidents as cyclists can focus their eyes on the road ahead of them.
I wish I had learned about this before Christmas. But perhaps this would make a good Valentine’s Day gift (yes, I’ll make sure that my husband reads this blog post).
Well folks, Dan Laurence responded to my previous blog post. Admittedly, I’m surprised that he agrees: The possible new law allowing cyclists to simply yield at stop signs is a bad idea. Here’s what he says:
People for the “Idaho stop” law tend to focus on the personal convenience (personal rights!) and not the epidemiological consequences (social Responsibilities!). Allowing cyclists to not stop is one more variable thrown into the set of expectations for predicting behavior of other vehicles on the road.
I actually believe that laws that treat cyclists differently from motor vehicles are, on balance, dangerous for cyclists, because they vacate commonly appreciated expectations for road behavior. To be safe, a driver needs to not only obey the law, but be able to predict what other road users are likely to do. confusion in that regard decreases safety. at least some driver’s won’t know the new law, or will be angry about it and ignore it out of spite. Moreover, the “Idaho stop” law would lead to complacency among cyclists. the increase in convenience promised by an “IDAHO STOP” comes with increased risk of collisions with motor vehicles and pedestrians.
True, compared to motor vehicles, cyclists go relatively slowly and have unobstructed vision. They are usually capable of appreciating cross-traffic risk so long as they come to a “rolling stop”. Moreover, they feel the pressure of holding back traffic behind them. Asking cyclists to signed intersections with no traffic seems ridiculous to cyclists much of the time. But the real problem is cyclists who will use the law as a reason not to bother to slow down, or develop a bad habit of thinking “this intersection never has cross traffic, so why bother to slow down?”, or who ignore the fact that cars may not see them on approach to the intersection. [Emphasis added.] This is especially true among cyclists in dark clothing without lights who ride in twilight, on gloomy days, or at night; something i see (unfortunately) all the time. There is also the problem of the car on the opposing side ready to turn left that fails to signal, or signals but thinks the cyclist will yield, and will turn left in front of the cyclist.
I’m sure I could go on, but Catherine, as much as I don’t like stopping unnecessarily, I agree with you. As a cyclist, I think that if I run a stop sign, the risk should fall squarely on me.
Let’s not pass this law. #ItSoundsLikeABadIdea given that few cyclists are getting tickets for running stop signs, i question the need for the change in law. Better simply to treat the issue similarly to the way Seattle treats marijuana usage: a very low priority enforced only when someone is behaving recklessly.
The divide between cyclists and drivers seems to grow by the month. Personally, I try to sit on the sidelines because I can see both perspectives. However, I also see drivers practically kill cyclists with inattention and poor habits. In many ways, I’m a wanna-be-cyclist, as I love to ride my bike with my child around our quiet neighborhood of Magnolia. However, at my job I see more than my share of tragic accidents, where diligent cyclists get mowed down because a driver was too busy texting his girlfriend or just didn’t bother to yield at a stop sign for a cyclist, who had the right of way.
Regardless, I’m undecided about the possible new law that will allow cyclists in San Francisco to yield at a stop sign. The widely acknowledged “Idaho stop,” named because it’s legal in Idaho for cyclists, may cause greater consternation among drivers, who are increasingly angered by rule-flouting cyclists. From my vantage point, it #SoundsLikeABadIdea. But, I’m going to ask our resident cyclist/attorney, Dan the Bike Man, for his studied perspective. Stay tuned for some potentially interesting banter between Dan, an endurance cyclist by night/weekend and trial attorney by day and myself, the mild-mannered pseudo-cyclist…
Earlier this month NPR reported on the spike in bicycle deaths as more adults opt for two wheels instead of four. Just like many of our cyclist clients, adults want to adopt healthier routines to get around town. But unfortunately, the healthier commuting choice more frequently translates to visits to the hospital
According to the report (citing a study in a recent Journal of the American Medical Association), bike injuries more than doubled between 1998-2013. The age group affected the most is those 45 years old or older.
Why? Simple: More people riding bikes means more cyclists in catastrophic or fatal accidents.
On the flip side, perhaps a more comforting statistic (published last month in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report per NPR), indicated that the number of deaths among child cyclists have plunged. Nonetheless, the same report notes that deaths have tripled among cyclists ages 35 to 54..
With the spike of older age cyclists (in their 50s-60s) who are riding the roads at high speeds, serious bicycle accidents are more likely. A 60 year old does not recover from bicycle accidents the same way a 30 year old does.
So, kudos to you if you want to adopt a healthy commuting lifestyle. But please remember to take it a little slower in congested areas. Wearing a helmet, visible gear, and lights all help others see that you’re there sharing the road.
It’s summer, which means many of us are opting to find creative, less expensive ways to get to the airport. Personally, I’m in the minority among my friends when it comes to ride-hailing services like Uber. Why? I know too much about the insurance pitfalls, and can’t help but think about what might happen in the off chance that me or my family member might get injured as an Uber passenger.
Several days ago at a friend’s BBQ, I ran into one of my favorite neighbors who told me not to hug her too hard because she was involved in a horrible car accident with an Uber driver. When I asked her who was going to help her pay her medical bills, her response: “Good question. We’re still trying to figure that one out.”
This is one of the many problems that I have with ride-hailing services: They’re trying to have their cake and eat it too. Why is it that they have escaped regulations and yet can exploit loopholes by calling themselves an “app” provider? They are quasi-taxi services, that have somehow figured out how to avoid the massive fees like medallions that hard-working taxi-drivers must deal with. Despite the many headlines that keep popping up about Uber tragedies, where lack of insurance persists as a critical issue, people are willing to turn a blind eye because they think they’re saving money.
True: In California, Washington and other states, we are seeing more laws pass to address the insurance coverage gap. Thank goodness. But this still doesn’t make things as straightforward as if you were injured in a taxi or your friend’s car. Many Uber drivers have still not disclosed to their insurance companies that they derive some of their income as ride-hailing drivers. Ooops. What do you think their insurers will say, when they find out after their insured gets into an accident with some injured passengers?
Is it worth it, if you find yourself in an accident as an Uber passenger or in a car that an Uber driver hits while it’s carrying Uber passengers? Think long and hard the next time you want to use that clever app. Please.
KOMO News did a great story on SKW client Daniel Ahrendt last night. Executive producer/reporter Nathan Wilson conveyed the resilience and bravery of Daniel and the entire Ahrendt family despite a near-death experience:
A little over a month ago, cyclist commuter Daniel Ahrendt was on his way to his web developer job in the Georgetown neighborhood. A lifelong cyclist, Daniel saw that that Monday morning was dry and perfect for cycling. As he made his way westbound on S. Jackson during the rush hour, he was in the bike lane with buses lined up sharing that same lane. As he crossed the intersection, he knew that the sharrows would lead him to the right of a bus directly in front of him. Making the safer choice, he aimed for the left side of the lane. That’s when his bike tire got caught in the streetcar tracks. While he was down, the rear tires of a trolley bus ran over the the lower half of his body.
Just yesterday, a full month after the May 4th incident, Daniel was discharged from Harborview. His devoted parents have stayed by his side through this nightmare (they had learned via social media about Daniel’s incident and hopped on the next plane to Seattle from Hawaii).
While he has a long road to recovery, we are grateful that he is finally out of Harborview to regain some semblance of a “normal” life. In my conversations with him, his eternal optimism and quiet strength distinguish him. While he requires help for the most basic tasks, his fortitude and positive attitude fuel his hope for better days ahead. Full disclosure: SKW attorneys represents injured bicyclist Daniel Ahrendt.