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Bus-Stop Crash Suit Can Go to Trial, Court Rules

By Susan Gilmore, The Seattle Times

Terrence Brewster was sitting at a covered bus stop in Ballard in 2006, reading a book, when a car and a minivan collided at a nearby intersection and the minivan slammed into the bus shelter.

The shelter partially collapsed, breaking Brewster’s legs and causing other injuries that sent him to a nursing home for six months.

On Tuesday, the state Court of Appeals said a lawsuit Brewster filed against King County over its bus stop should go to trial.

“This is a very satisfying victory,” said Brewster’s attorney, Raymond Dearie Jr. “We still have a ways to go.”

After the accident, Brewster sued King County and the two drivers, filing his lawsuit in neighboring Pierce County, where a trial court dismissed King County from the lawsuit on a motion for summary judgment. The Court of Appeals reversed that decision and sent the case back to Pierce County for trial.

It was a stormy day Dec. 16, 2006, and the traffic lights at Eighth Avenue Northwest and Northwest Market Street were out, Dearie said. Two vehicles collided in the intersection, he said, one driven by a driver who had been drinking. The collision sent the minivan spinning 70 feet into the bus shelter, said the court of appeals, and the impact moved the bus shelter’s frame and the bench Brewster was sitting on, throwing him to the ground.

In his lawsuit, Brewster alleged that the county had “negligently designed, constructed, maintained, or replaced the bus shelter.”

Lawyers for King County argued that the accident was unforeseeable, and thus could not have been prevented, and that the county shouldn’t be held liable for the actions of the drivers. The county also argued moving the shelter back a foot from the curb would not have prevented Brewster’s injuries.

But in his appeal, Brewster and his lawyer produced witnesses who said King County had improperly placed the bus shelter too close to the street — less than two feet from the curb — with seating that didn’t face traffic.

“My guy’s sitting in the bus shelter, reading his book, just getting off work and he hears the collision,” Dearie said, “but because he wasn’t facing it, he didn’t know the car was coming right at him. It gave him no time to react.”

The state Department of Transportation’s design manual for bus stop waiting areas says that “where vehicle speeds are 30 mph, 5 feet is a satisfactory distance.”

County officials will say little about the lawsuit, except that they are prepared to defend the case on its merits.

In sending the case back for trial, the appeals court didn’t rule on the merits of the argument but said there was evidence that the county had placed the bus shelter “in a location and in such a manner that put him at risk of injury,” and also found that the county should have foreseen the possibility of accidents at that intersection.

Dearie also produced a witness who was standing at the bus stop at the time of the accident and, according to the appeals-court ruling, the man said Brewster could not see the minivan coming toward him because he had his back to the street.

Published in The Seattle Times, October 05, 2011

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