Road Design

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.

More cyclists over 45 years old leads to jump in fatal bike accidents


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.

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.

Moving story about injured cyclist Daniel Ahrendt

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:

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.

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.

 

Pedestrians and cyclists: Staying visible when sun goes down

Increase your safety by wearing high visibility reflective gear.

Increase your safety by wearing high visibility reflective gear.

Some of our firm’s most tragic cases result from nighttime accidents. Once the sun goes down, a lawful pedestrian or bicyclist might not realize how invisible they are to a drunk or inattentive driver. Cars kill more than 5,000 pedestrians, bicyclists, and joggers each year. The lion’s share of those accidents occur after the sun sets. But those who enjoy an evening stroll, run or bike ride need to know that not all reflective gear are equal.

Consumer Reports tested several types of reflective gear: jackets, bike shirts, and an inexpensive safety vest. A Betabrand shirt with reflective thread was marketed as easy to spot. However, in a recent Consumer Reports test, the shirt wasn’t visible from 300 feet. This is the distance for a car to stop in time, if the driver is traveling at 60 miles per hour.

To stay safe in the night, one needs to wear gear that is highly visible in the front as well as the back. The more reflective, the better. While the $180 Gore Phantom Windstopper soft-shell jacket is easy to see coming and going, it didn’t outperform the Uline safety vest, with its big, bright strips. The Uline option is much less expensive, about $15 at uline.com.

To increase your visibility, consider donning a reflective ankle band or wristband. According to Consumer Reports, these are highly visible from 300 feet. When you’re moving your legs and arms up and down, it’s hard to miss you from a distance.

Finally, don’t pooh-pooh some of the lowest cost options like iron-on reflective tape. Iron on this tape onto your own and your kids’ backpacks, hoodies, and caps to gain a little more peace of mind. Taking these extra steps, while staying clear of the road whenever possible, can only help prevent a needless tragedy.

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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