The purpose of a road shoulder is to provide a safe place for drivers to pull off. This is what Todd Moothart, a 50 year old software engineer, thought as he tried to pull his motorcycle out of traffic. A conscientious motorcyclist, he wanted to wait for his friends to catch up. Motorcyclists know that it’s safer to travel in groups on the highway to increase their visibility to other vehicles.
When Todd got separated from his two friends on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Fall 2013, he decided to pull off on SR 14 and wait for them. But the road shoulder was far from safe. The broken pavement past the edge of the main road–next to the shoulder–dropped off seven inches.
When Todd pulled his Harley Davidson onto the shoulder, his motorcycle wheel hit the face of the seven-inch broken pavement edge. His motorcycle hit the face of the broken pavement, his front and rear wheels were severely dented, and his body was propelled into the air like he was on a trampoline.
Note that safety standards in the transportation engineering field recommend that pavement edge drop offs be kept to a depth of no greater than two
Todd suffered severe injuries, including a kidney laceration, a concussion, amputation of a part of his right index finger, and broken/fractured bones in his upper and lower body.
The design plans for the on-ramp called for an eight-foot paved shoulder on the right-hand side. At the location where Moothart pulled off, there was no paved shoulder at all beyond the fog line. For unknown reasons, the State’s as-built plans for the on-ramp showed an eight-foot paved shoulder, but the evidence indicated that the on-ramp never had an eight-foot paved shoulder in the area where Moothart pulled off. The on-ramp was built in the mid-90s.
Stritmatter Kessler attorneys represented Todd Moothart in trial against the State of Washington in late October/early November of this year. The jury found that the State had failed to maintain the road in a reasonably safe condition.Todd was awarded $2,993,000. Part of the award was for about $500,000 in undisputed past medical bills and wage loss.
Todd was a conscientious motorcyclist who was at the wrong place at the wrong time. Emergencies and split second decisions happen anywhere and anytime. That’s why the shoulder must be maintained per State of Washington standards. The shoulder needs to be safe to pull over for all vehicles. This is the State of Washington has standards for an eight food shoulder with a minimum drop off of 2 inches.
Kudos to our firm’s roadway safety attorneys for educating the jury and judge about the need to keep the State’s road shoulders safe! The government needs to be held accountable, when its roads don’t meet basic safety requirements.
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.
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.