Not that I’m superstitious, but what happened on the 520 bridge yesterday has a bizarre, “Friday the 13th” quality to it. According to The Seattle Times, a sign hit a bus near Lake Washington Boulevard on the west side of the bridge. Eight people were taken to the hospital for “minor injuries.”
Washington State Patrol Trooper Chris Webb explained that a pipe [used to support a temporary work bridge] hit the bus, ricocheted off the top of the bus and hit the sign. That traffic sign then fell back on the bus, destroying the front of the bus. Witnesses say that the bus driver was lying on the ground and drivers had stopped and jumped over the median to help others on the bus.
WSDOT is meeting with the prime contractor, Flatiron Construction, to learn how this happened. Hopefully, they will figure out a way that this will never happen again. Thank goodness that more serious injuries did not result from this.
I cannot help but be reminded of the Lacey Hicks case, when a light post that had rusted out from its base had crashed through Ms. Hicks’s car. Lacey had to get extracted from the car with “jaws of life.” After SKW was hired to represent Lacey, much needed improvements were finally made with the remaining, dangerous light posts replaced.
WSDOT spokesman Ian Sterling:“The [pipes] are not supposed to swing across a live lane of traffic. That was never supposed to happen,” he said. Flatiron, whose subcontractor was moving the pipes, will be held responsible for funding or building a new sign, he said.
The Seattle Times article mentions that contractors have delivered pipes this way several times before with WSDOT consent. In the past, they have closed the right westbound lane of Highway 520, as traffic passed in the inside lane. Last night a routine one-lane closure was underway for the truck to park on the right side, while the crane mounted on the work bridge grasped the pipes.
These pipes are used to support a temporary work bridge in the lake near Foster Island, where Flatiron is constructing a $200 million highway segment — to carry three future westbound lanes.
Yesterday, a court order to unseal the entire court file in the massive whistleblower case against Trinity Guardrails (maker of now infamous ET Plus guardrails) will likely save many lives. This file contains literally hundreds of sealed pleadings and exhibits relating to a dangerous highway guardrail that’s been linked to dozens of deaths and injuries. The court also held that all of the testimony and exhibits from a recent trial of the case must also remain open to the public, effective immediately.
Below is an excerpt from the Public Justice website*:
The [court order to unseal all of the files for public access] is so important in this case. A major highway guardrail manufacturer, Trinity, will not be able to hide the fact that it kept its changed guardrail design from the federal government and that that guardrail design is unsafe. The victory also means that the public has access to facts that will be critical for making the case that the federal government should withdraw its approval of these guardrails. And it’s ammunition for states seeking to phase out and remove these lethal guardrails from our highways.
Trinity was sued for defrauding the federal government by changing the design of its guardrail end terminals, not conducting appropriate crash tests on the new design, and not telling the federal government about the changes—meaning that the guardrails remained on the Federal Highway Administration’s list of approved guardrails. A jury found that Trinity defrauded the government to the tune of $175 million.
Because of the design change, when the terminal is hit by a car, instead of absorbing the energy of the crash and slowing the vehicle, the guardrail jams and turns into a potentially lethal spear. Drivers and their passengers have been decapitated, their limbs have been severed, and they have been stabbed by these guardrails. A study by Public Justice client, The Safety Institute found that the redesigned Trinity guardrail was 2.86 to 3.95 times more likely to be involved in a lethal accident and 1.36 to 1.95 times more likely to be involved in an accident with serious injury than Trinity’s older design.
In the case against Trinity, huge swaths of court records—including crash test documents—were filed under seal. On behalf of The Safety Institute and the Center for Auto Safety, consumer protection attorneys sought to intervene to unseal the records. Although our motion to intervene was denied, our efforts to unseal the records helped to convince the court to do the right thing.
*NOTE: Stritmatter Kessler Whelan partner Brad J. Moore currently serves as President Elect of Public Justice, the country’s largest public interest law firm.
Several days ago, a construction worker fell to his death at a site on the Bellevue College campus. Exactly why he fell 50 feet off a ladder is still the subject of investigation.
This tragedy is unfortunately not the first of its kind this year. The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) has cited three companies for safety violations related to the death of a construction worker in downtown Seattle in January. The man died after falling 72 feet from a scaffold at a construction site on Taylor Avenue North.
A serious violation exists in a workplace if there is a substantial probability that worker death or serious physical harm could result from a hazardous condition. A willful violation can be issued when L&I has evidence of plain indifference, a substitution of judgment or an intentional disregard to a hazard or rule.
Referring to the January construction fatality, “This tragedy could have been prevented if any one of these companies had made certain that proper and safe scaffolding was installed to do the necessary work, and workers had appropriate fall-protection and training,” said Anne Soiza, assistant director for L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health. “Frequent hazard analysis on construction sites will save lives.”
Whether a worker is a contractor or an employee, the general contractor/employer is responsible for providing for adequate safety equipment and training. Adequate and frequent inspections of the site are also required.
Stritmatter Kessler Whelan was asked to represent a profoundly injured construction worker, Candelario Perez, who was tightening barbed wire fence, when he slipped and fell off a cliff. Luckily, he survived. However, he is now a quadriplegic. After the State of WA’s investigation ruled against the general contractor and issued a small fine. But becaue Mr. Perez was a subcontractor, he had the right to sue the general contractor.
Under Washington State law, there is a principle known as “Stute.” Stute requires that a general contractor maintain a safe work site. In Mr. Perez’s case, the general contractor had no idea how to work on a cliff and delegated that project by hiring a subcontractor. However, the general contractor did nothing to ensure that the subcontractor was keeping its employees safe.
Because there is worker’s compensation in Washington, an injured worker cannot sue their employer. But they can sue if someone other than their employer caused their injury.