Premises Liability

How do we make roads safer for cyclists & drivers?

Last week was National Protected Bike Lane week. Just a few hours south of us, in Portland, a coalition of businesses and residents conducted a one-week test that redesigned nearly a mile with marked crosswalks, a hand built floating bus stop and extra sidewalk space for cafe seating. On the block with the bus stop, the design included a parking-protected bike lane.  Protected Bike Lane Infographic (2)The interesting point is that, by slowing traffic down a bit, not only does this increase pedestrian and cyclist safety, but it also benefits the local businesses. Freeway-style roads do not encourage people to look around them.

Understanding that protected bike lanes aren’t always feasible, there are a number of other options. Take, for example, timing the traffic so that bikes and other vehicles can alternate on the same roadway. SKW client Daniel Ahrendt is a seasoned cyclist commuter. But last year in May, his bike tire hit a portion of the First Hill Streetcar tracks, causing him to fall. That morning was clear, dry and partly sunny. The issue was not slick roads/tracks, but that he had to compete with the Metro bus that was “sharing” the lane with him and other cyclists headed in the same direction. I cannot help but imagine the difference that a timed light, which would have allowed Daniel to proceed before the bus, allowing him ample time to cross the intersection and avoid the fall that resulted in nearby bus to run over him.

WA Supreme Court decision is unanimous: Government has a duty to provide safe roads

Overgrown blackberry bushes (see left side of photo) obstructed drivers' view of oncoming traffic.

Overgrown blackberry bushes (see left side of photo) obstructed drivers’ view of oncoming traffic.

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.

Ray Kahler argues in front of the Washington State Supreme Court

Today, our own Ray Kahler* argued in front of the Washington State Supreme Court on behalf of plaintiff Wuthrich against King County. To boil the issue down to the most basic form: Does the County have a duty to maintain property where overgrown vegetation may obstruct sight lines and result in a car accident?

The Supreme Court has not decided this issue, and it has been over 50 years since the Supreme Court has addressed the question of whether a governmental entity can be liable for failure to maintain vegetation that presents a sight obstruction.  This case gives the Supreme Court an opportunity to decide these questions.

Our SKW legal team* argued that, in light of the waiver of sovereign immunity, a governmental entity should be held to the same standard as a private landowner with regard to the duty to maintain vegetation: It should not create a hazard for motorists on the adjacent roadways.

Check back for a link to today’s oral arguments!

*Ray Kahler, Keith Kessler along with Garth Jones and Brad J. Moore make up the SKW team for plaintiff Guy Wuthrich.

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.

Family of young girl hit at Redmond Town Center files wrongful death lawsuit


Last Friday, the Drehers filed a wrongful death/premises liability lawsuit against Redmond Town Center among other defendants. Young Susie Dreher was playing at the unguarded RTC Sensory Garden, which is located next to a busy street.

A press conference was held at the Dreher house to share a little of what the Drehers have gone through and what they hope to achieve with legal action. KIRO, Q13, and the Seattle Times have covered the story.

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