Government

Deadly Aurora Bridge accident is a wake up call.

This past Thursday’s deadly Aurora Bridge crash is a wake up call. Some reporters are sounding the alarm. Thanks to these reporters and responsive lawmakers, I have hope that we will see big changes on the Aurora Bridge. My reason for this hope is in large part thanks to Glenn Farley’s investigative piece on KING5 and the article by Seattle Times reporters Mike Lindblom and Joseph O’Sullivan*. These reporters are pressing the important issue, rather than focusing entirely on the clumsy Ducks.

As I previously blogged, the City and the State have known for years that there are fixes to avoid more tragic accidents on the Aurora Bridge. Our firm learned this via depositions when representing victims from the 1998 incident on the bridge (that claimed six lives). Now, we are getting calls from victims and families from this past Thursday’s  deadly crash, given our record settlements/verdicts with wrongful death/catastrophic injuries cases in Seattle against the government.

Skeptics claim that a jersey barrier wouldn’t have done anything to prevent this fatal crash between an amphibious Duck and a charter bus. I respectfully disagree, given experts’ reports (from the earlier Aurora Bridge case). These experts explain how certain jersey barriers would deflect and minimize the impact of oncoming traffic.

Times like this, in the aftermath of a horrific tragedy, help to provide us with important insights on how we may prevent more needless loss of lives.

NOTE: Nathan Wilson, KOMO TV, executive producer/director at KOMO News also did a story, interviewing our own Keith Kessler, who represented several victims from the previous, high profile Aurora Bridge crash. Check back soon to see a link to that story.

Median Barriers & Today’s Deadly Aurora Bridge Crash

SDOT had plans to install median barrier. That likely would have saved lives and reduced the impact of today's incident.

SDOT had plans to install median barrier years ago. That likely would have saved lives and reduced the impact of today’s incident.

A horrific collision involving a Ride the Ducks amphibious vehicle ground traffic to a halt on the Aurora Bridge earlier today. From reports and eyewitness accounts, apparently the Duck crossed into oncoming traffic.

In a similar case that our firm handled, we deposed SDOT employees. From those depositions, we learned that the State and City has talked about installing a barrier for many years. Stritmatter Kessler Whelan deposed WSDOT and SDOT employees several years ago for a case where a Metro bus driver was shot, and the bus traveled across oncoming lanes on the Aurora Bridge, crashed through the railing and plunged to the ground. At that time, we reviewed plans for adding a pedestrian walkway at a level just below the bridge, enabling the City to remove the sidewalk, and move the lanes over to accommodate the median barrier. Obviously, that was never done. If a barrier had been in place, it would have deflected the impact of the Duck and the deadly crash with the oncoming bus would have never happened.

In 1993, 1994 and again in 1997, in preparation of a resurfacing project, WSDOT considered a median barrier for the bridge. The issue fell through the cracks. The pressing issue at that time was that the structural steel of the bridge was beginning to show signs of deterioration. Thus, repairs needed to be made w/in a 2 year period. Limited funding for anything beyond the basic repairs was a problem for WSDOT.  As a result, although everyone recognized the need for a barrier, the project was put off for another day. In fact, it would have cost only an additional $800K – $1.2 M to provide the additional structural support needed for the median barrier. Additionally, the annual economic cost in terms of societal losses exceeds $2 M on that bridge. Given that WSDOT & SDOT have to operate with limited funds, a cost-benefit analysis was warranted for this type of scenario.  I certainly don’t mean to second-guess transportation/traffic engineers. However, our firm’s experience with roadway design cases (and in particular w/our case involving the Aurora Bridge) tells us that a barrier would have deflected the Duck vehicle and prevented the most recent tragedy.

Fiat Chrysler Recall Farther Reaching than Takata Recall

2015 might just easily earn the dubious distinction as the Year of the Historic Recalls. We started off the year with news about the GM ignition recalls and the early months led to a great deal of hand-wringing over the massive Honda/Takata airbag recall. Now, the public is hit with news about the massive Fiat Chrysler recall. Given our firm’s long history of auto products liability cases, we continue to get requests to look at cases involving serious injuries resulting stemming from these recall issues.

Earlier this week, federal regulators slapped a $105 million penalty against Fiat Chrysler Automobiles for its failure to complete 23 safety recalls that included over 11 million vehicles. If you’re wondering whether this is the highest civil penalty imposed yet by NHTSA on an automaker for recall violations, then you are right.

This recall also demonstrates an escalation of the agency’s efforts to investigate and punish automakers that do not adequately recall and fix defective models.

“This civil penalty puts manufacturers on notice that the department will act when they do not take their obligations to repair safety defects seriously,” said the secretary of transportation, Anthony Foxx.

In a statement, the automaker acknowledged the safety violations and agreed to the record penalties.

“We also accept the resulting consequences with renewed resolve to improve our handling of recalls and re-establish the trust our customers place in us,” the company said.

The agency said the civil penalty was broken down into a cash penalty of $70 million, and an agreement that Fiat Chrysler would spend at least $20 million on meeting performance requirements detailed in the consent order. An additional penalty of $15 million will be assessed on the company if an independent monitor, who has yet to be announced, discovers further violations of safety laws or the consent order.

Under the order, Fiat Chrysler is required to buy back as many as 500,000 vehicles with defective suspensions that can cause drivers to lose control. Also, owners of more than one million Jeeps with rear-mounted gas tanks that are prone to fires will be given an opportunity to trade in their vehicles at rates above market value.

Mark R. Rosekind, who took over as the administrator of the highway safety agency last December, said the heavy fine was a direct result of Fiat Chrysler’s prolonged failures to fix recalled models.

“Fiat Chrysler’s pattern of poor performance put millions of its customers, and the driving public, at risk,” he said.

The agency is authorized to impose a maximum fine of $35 million for an individual recall that is not completed in a timely manner.

The government’s action is the latest in a series of moves by Mr. Rosekind to put more pressure on automakers to fix defective vehicles.

“We need a proactive safety culture in this country,” he told reporters at a recent briefing in Detroit.

The agency has come under harsh criticism in Congress and by theTransportation Department’s inspector general for lax enforcement of auto safety regulations.

In Fiat Chrysler’s case, this month the government took the unusual step of holding a public hearing to focus on 23 separate recalls that date back to 2009. At the hearing, federal officials said the company had repeatedly failed to notify consumers of recalls and to complete repairs in a timely fashion.

The company’s top safety executive, Scott Kunselman, admitted the automaker had made “mistakes and missteps” in conducting recalls. “The agency has raised some legitimate questions,” he said at the hearing on July 2.

The automaker has started several new recalls since the hearing, including one on July 24, 2015 (this past Friday) that covered 1.4 million vehicles vulnerable to computer hackers.“The $105 million fine shows the need for an uncapped penalty,” said Clarence Ditlow, an official of the Center for Auto Safety who first petitioned the government to investigate the rear-mounted fuel tanks in Jeeps.

Fiat Chrysler is currently recalling 1.59 million Jeeps equipped with the rear-mounted gas tanks, which can catch on fire in high-speed collisions.

The company is installing trailer hitches on the affected Jeeps to soften the impact of rear-end collisions. But the rate of repairs in that recall has been slow, government investigators say.

Under the consent order, Jeep owners will have the option to trade in a vehicle for above market value or receive an unspecified payment from Fiat Chrysler to install a trailer hitch.

Judge’s Latest Ruling Will Improve Yakima Residents’ Water Quality

If you have followed the work of Public Justice and its team of attorneys (including SKW attorney Brad Moore), you likely saw the news story this weekend about an important ruling that will improve the lives and public safety of the residents in the Yakima Valley.

Cow Palace, among a handful of other industrial dairy farms, have produced tons and tons of manure, calling it “nutrients” and selling it as fertilizer or letting it sit in miles of unlined lagoons. The massive amounts of manure inevitably leeched into the earth, causing an array of serious health problems for residents within miles of any of these farms.

But finally, the work of attorneys Charlie Tebbutt, Brad Moore, and Jessica Culpepper (among a larger legal team) has convinced U.S. District Judge Thomas O. Rice to call a spade a spade, redefining “nutrients” as “solid waste.”

“The cow waste is leeching nitrates into groundwater, posing “an imminent and substantial endangerment to human health,” according to the ruling. Bravo to Charlie Tebbutt, Brad Moore and the entire Public Justice team that has worked tirelessly on fighting for the rights of Yakima Valley residents.

 

 

Cyclist Run Over By Bus Continues His Long Recovery

Daniel at Harborview

Daniel pictured at Harborview soon after the incident, unable to move his legs or much of his upper body.

Close up of the sharrows that lead southbound cyclists to the gutter and to the right of buses.

Close up of the sharrows that lead southbound cyclists to the gutter and to the right of buses.

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.

Cyclists in the community and the larger public held their breath, as news reports indicated that Daniel had “life threatening injuries.

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.

Sarah's grad CROPPED

Daniel with his sister on her graduation and w/mother Karrie Ahrendt.

School’s failure to teach hearing impaired results in $1 million for student

Jose Garcia is finally set to graduate after a victorious legal battle with Grandview School District,  He was awarded $1 million after the court decided the his school had neglected to address his hearing disability. (Photo: Yakima Herald)

Jose Garcia is finally set to graduate after a victorious legal battle with Grandview School District, He was awarded $1 million after the court decided the his school had neglected to address his hearing disability. (Photo: Yakima Herald)

Born with a severe hearing disability, Jose Garcia and his family thought he would graduate in 2010 with the rest of his class from Grandview High School. But that year, when his mother, Maria, thought he was going to graduate, the ugly truth reared its head: Grandview School District had neglected to address his hearing problem. Instead, the district left him in a special needs class, so that 17 year old Jose was reading at a second-grade level and had the math skills of a third-grader. Without any warning, he was deemed unready to receive his high school diploma. 

The case began in 2010, when Garcia’s mother learned that her son would not graduate with the other 17 year old students at his school. She filed a complaint with the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction against the school district, and the matter was referred to an administrative law judge. The judge, Matthew Wacker of Seattle, ruled in favor of Garcia, ordering the district to provide him with six years of private education after finding that the district had given Garcia work below his grade level rather than adequately addressing his hearing problem. The ruling included a $1,000,000 verdict for Jose.

The district appealed Wacker’s decision in Yakima County Superior Court, where Judge Robert Lawrence-Berry mostly upheld the ruling, but reduced from six to four the number of years the district would have to provide Garcia with private education.

Four years later, Jose is set to graduate at age 22. He now plans to get a technical degree to work as an electrician.

SKW attorney and partner, Karen Koehler, and Richland, WA attorney Kerri Feeney represented Jose Garcia against the school district.

How can we learn from Seattle bike accidents?

26 yr old cyclist was hit by a Metro bus during AM commute last Monday. (Photo: SDOT)

26 yr old cyclist was hit by a Metro bus during AM commute last Monday. (Photo: SDOT)

How can we learn from another Seattle bike accident? The one that occurred earlier this month resulted in life threatening injuries to a 26 year old cyclist, when a Metro trolley bus hit him.

Investigators are still looking into the details of the cause. However, anyone who knows the area–Rainier Ave S and South Jackson, can probably guess what likely occurred. Cyclists familiar with that stretch of road know that there are streetcar tracks. These tracks can wreak havoc with cyclists who want to cross over or ride alongside them. (Again, the exact details of the May 4, 2015 accident are still under investigation.)

Here’s a suggestion: How about some warning signs to both bus drivers and cyclists? There were reportedly some close calls before this horrendous accident. How about painting that part of the road to alert cyclists?

At our firm, well known bike injury attorney Keith L. Kessler has presented on some of the cyclist hazards of road design (Here is one of his more recent presentations Bicycle Litigation Strategy – Roadway Safety Cases).  Recall the Gendler case (one of the largest recent settlements against the State): Our firm represented injured cyclist, Mickey Gendler, whose bike tire got caught on a seam on the Montlake Bridge. Note that the State had known about this hazard to bicyclists for years before this tragic accident. One would hope that these types of accidents would serve as red flags to road designers/engineers who know if cyclists will frequent a route that is shared with cars and street cars/trolleys. If we truly want to live up to being one of the most bike friendly cities in the country, let’s walk the walk.

NOTE: This blog post was originally published in SKWBikeLaw blog.

 

FDA reveals duodenoscope procedures likely infected far more than initially reported

Why didn't FDA and hospitals come out earlier and more forcefully about the risks of scope procedure?

Why didn’t FDA and hospitals come out earlier and more forcefully about the risks of scope procedure?

Ahead of next week’s advisory panel convening, the FDA released some eye opening details related to the superbug outbreaks linked to dirty duodenoscopes. Reports of these outbreaks occurred at hospitals across the country, including Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, WA

Federal regulators disclosed additional clues about the potential harm to patients from a controversial medical scope, providing 142 reports of contaminated devices and possible patient infections since 2010. This came out via a May 7, 2015  LA Times article.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had previously said it received about half that many reports, 75, on duodenoscopes that caused patient infections in 2013 and 2014.

The number of patients involved could be far higher than 142 given that one adverse event report may include many individual procedures/people.

The FDA panel of medical experts is expected to recommend additional steps to regulators, device manufacturers and hospitals. These are steps needed to protect patients undergoing a procedure known as endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography, or ERCP.

Officials report that 669,000 ERCP procedures were performed last year on patients battling cancer, gallstones and other digestive issues.

As we have seen in the news, advocates and lawmakers are directing harsh criticism at the FDA and Olympus Corp., maker of duodenoscopes. Why did they not sooner and more emphatically to report these hospital outbreaks? This would have alerted the broader medical community about the risks of the scope procedure.

Investigations have revealed that patients were infected even when medical centers followed the manufacturers’ (Olympus, Pentax Medical, and Fujifilm) cleaning instructions. Health officials learned that deadly bacteria are easily trapped at the tip of these duodenoscopes.

“The transmission of infectious material from patient to patient during ERCP, although uncommon, represents a serious public health concern,” the FDA states in its latest report.

Federal officials acknowledged that their surveillance system for medical devices has limitations and that incidents can be underreported by manufacturers.

520 Sign Falls, Wreaks Havoc with Accidents/Injuries

520 Bridge Sign Fell on Bus 3/16/2015,

520 Bridge Sign Fell on Bus 3/16/2015, (Photo credit: Sonny Behrends)

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.

Yesterday's 520 bridge accident reminds me of SKW's Lacey Hicks' case.

Yesterday’s 520 bridge accident reminds me of SKW’s Lacey Hicks’ case.

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.

 

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