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.
The deadly Ride The Ducks crash that claimed six lives on Sept. 24th on the Aurora Bridge. Today the Ducks attempts to turn the corner. It is is the first day since that crash that some of the Ducks amphibious vehicles will be out back on the roads in limited numbers in Seattle.
Frustration and surprise were among some of the reactions from SKW clients Yuta Masumoto and Mazda Hutapea, international students at North Seattle Community College, who were on the bus and who sustained serious injuries as a result of the crash. These two young students, excited to study abroad, are now faced with long recovery times to deal with broken bones, torn ligaments, and bodies that resemble those who have lived four times longer than each of them.
Their lawsuits were filed today and to hold the Ducks company accountable for vehicles that were apparently fraught with mechanical issues.
*Doug Phillips is co-counsel.
On September 24, 2015, 18-year-old Phuong Dinh snapped photographs from her window seat in a charter bus filled with other North Seattle College students as it motored across the Aurora Bridge.
“And then, ‘Bam,’ ” she recalls. “Nothing else. Just flashes after that. I would faint. Then I would be awake and very bad pain all over. Then I would faint.”
Later in a hospital bed, memories from a deadly crash flooded back: She remembered blood covering her face and dripping down. She saw a bone piercing through the skin of her left leg.
The left side of Phuong’s body was crushed. She suffered a broken wrist, arm, hip, knee, and extensive facial lacerations. Now, four surgeries later and almost three months after the crash, Phuong spends her days in a Central District nursing facility in Seattle, slogging toward recovery and worrying about her future.
Phuong cried often during her initial weeks in the rehab facility. Now she says she doesn’t cry as much because she is getting used to the pain. Phuong’s main concern now is learning to walk again. Still unable to bear weight on her left leg, the bones of which are now reinforced with metal rods and screws, she mostly needs to use a wheelchair.
Aside from the continuing health-care costs which will be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, Phuong’s parents have paid their own travel from Vietnam to Seattle, and while they’ve had their lodging covered by the Salvation Army, they worry about the future.
Phuongs’s father, Hiep, who runs a family construction business, remains in Seattle. Her mother, Thao, has had to fly back and forth to Vietnam to also care for Phuong’s 3 year old sister and 6 year old brother. The little kids are staying with their grandparents and a nanny.
Once Phuong gets out of the nursing home the family will have to figure out how to care for her so that she can attend school. A host family is probably no longer possible due to Phuong’s physical disabilities and need for accommodation.
A message from Phuong: “Thank you for caring for me and my family. Knowing I have your support means the world to me.” Visit her fundraising site here. Thank you for considering giving, during this difficult time for Phuong.
A few days ago, news reported the plight of SKW client, Phuong Dinh, 18 year old international student, who was seriously injured in the Oct. 2015 Ride the Ducks crash. With a long way to go in her recovery, she also had to worry about losing her health coverage. Please read about the wonderful turn of events in today’s Seattle Times article,”Ride the Ducks crush victim to get help from state, college.
Decide for yourself who has the more cogent arguments, when watching the Washington State Supreme Court oral arguments for Wuthrich v. King County. We’re proud of Ray Kahler, Seattle/Hoquiam trial lawyer for demonstrating his mastery of the relevant case law in arguing for Wuthrich.
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.
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.
A couple weeks have passed since the last significant crash Aurora Bridge that claimed six lives. Based on a KING5 news story tonight, a safety team of sorts is assembling. Team members are comprised of six individuals from SDOT and two from WSDOT.
The SDOT members include the city’s traffic engineer, two collision analysts, a corridor safety expert and the division manager for transportation. A project manager along with a state traffic engineer and regional administrator will head the team. Additionally, police and other city and state agencies are expected to participate.
Some of the members wear different hats within their agencies and others will focus entirely on their role on this team per KING5 investigative reporter, Glenn Farley.
This time, let’s shine a light on this entire process and ensure that the City and State follow through in making the bridge safer. Rather than focusing on misleading statistics (e.g., the relatively “low” number of crashes), let’s open our eyes to widespread and well-founded concerns of those who must drive on this bridge regularly with the fear of another fatal collision.