Collaboration in Civic Spheres

King County’s big tort claims: $37.3M in last 2.5 years

by August 29th, 2012

Court verdicts or settlements of $100,000 or more in government negligence claims against King County from January 2010 through June 2012 have totaled $37.3 million and 40 percent of that has resulted from actions by transit employees at King County Metro, according to records obtained by Public Data Ferret. The large tort claim payouts by King County more than doubled from 2010 to 2011 but so far are occurring at a slower pace this year. In 2010, total large tort claims (over $100,000) were $10.3 million and $6.65 million or 64 percent were due to King County Metro transit operations. In 2011, large tort claims were $23.1 million and $6.32 million or 27 percent were tied to Metro transit. In 2012 through June, King County has paid out $3.85 million in negligence claims of $100,000 or more, with $1.92 million or 50 percent involving Metro transit.

County tort “closed claims” – or negligence case payouts – of $100,000 or more are tracked and quarterly summaries sporadically posted online by the county since the passage of county ordinance 16913 in August 2010 mandating such reporting to county elected officials. The measure was sponsored by county board member Kathy Lambert, chair of the Government Accountability, Operations and Finance Committee.

The large tort claims closed accounted for the lion’s share of all such claims closed by the county. An Excel spreadsheet provided by the Department of Executive Services shows that from January 1, 2010 through August 20, 2012, the county closed 1,897 tort claims for a total of $42,846,640.

The county is self-insured and pays most claims from its own special insurance fund – but those over $7.5 million are covered by a re-insurer. Due to protracted negotiations between plaintiffs attorneys and those of the county, there is typically a gap of several years between the so-called “date of loss” or accident, and final settlement. Behind the numbers are disturbing and sometimes tragic stories of accidents and in some instances, alleged mistreatment of employees or county government clients.

Following are links to related county reports which detail the $100,000-plus negligence claim verdicts and settlements from 2010 through mid-2012. Highlights of some of the most notable cases are provided below.

First quarter through third quarter 2010 report:
Sample cases….

  • At 12th Ave. E. and E. Thomas St., a King County Metro supervisor van hit Elizabeth Newman who was riding a Vespa scooter to work at Swedish Hospital in Seattle, causing major orthopedic and internal injuries resulting in lost earning capacity and wages plus other damages and injuries. Settlement amount: $5 million.
  • At the Northgate shopping mall in Seattle, the operator of a King County Metro bus by mistake pressed a button which opened the back doors and automatically stopped the bus. The sudden halt made 57-year-old Anastasia Kaykas fall, and fracture her right wrist in three places, just seconds after entering. Surgery, time off from work and diminished capacity for her office job resulted. Settlement amount: $300,000.

Fourth quarter 2010:
Sample cases….

  • Waiting at a light in his vehicle to turn left from 4th Ave. SW onto SW 144th St. in Burien, Lionel Fuher got rear-ended by a King County Metro bus, spinning his Toyota Highlander 180 degrees, resulting in diagnosed concussion and lumbar strain, and financial impacts to his door and millwork construction company. Settlement amount: $213,126.
  • Wheelchair-bound quadriplegic David Ulatowski was waiting to cross the intersection of NE 145th St. and 15th Ave. NE when a turning Metro bus rode up on the curb and crushed his feet, resulting in a left leg amputation below the knee and surgery on his right foot. Settlement amount: $310,666.

First quarter 2011:
Sample cases….

  • Summer Stone, 13, suffered anorexic brain injury and mental incapacitation as a result of a near-drowning at the county’s Brassfield Maxwell Revetment facility along the Cedar River. After swimming in the river and then attempting to exit by climbing up some rocks to the river bank, she slipped and got trapped underwater between rocks that were part of the facility. Based on a “premises liability” argument advanced by her attorneys, the county settled for $8 million.
  • Diane Pollack’s vehicle was hit by another driven by a King County transportation department roads division employee who had run a red light, and was going 40 miles per hour, at 151st Avenue SE and Petrovitsky Road in Renton. Her car turned 180 degrees and hit a concrete wall, leaving her with a moderate brain injury and numerous fractures. Settlement amount: $455,431.

Second quarter 2011:
Sample case….

  • 83-year-old Tzu-Mei Shue was no longer able to live on her own and suffered pain and weakness in her left leg when she was thrown to the floor of a Metro bus after the driver stopped to discharge passengers and then suddenly accelerated while she was standing to leave. Settlement amount: $250,000.

Third quarter 2011:
Sample cases….

  • Five Lake Forest Park households were awarded a total of $211,250 from the county and an equal aggregate amount from the city for sewage backup and flooding damage to their homes from overflows at the Mathews Beach Pump Station during a major storm in December, 2007.
  • A double-length or articulated Metro bus improperly failed to yield to Graydon Hingey’s motorcycle at NE 75th Street and 50th Ave. NE, causing a collision which resulted in serious injuries, a two-week hospital stay, six more weeks in a nursing facility and a loss of Hingey’s ability to work as a carpenter and painter. The county settled for $750,000.
  • Fathi Fallack of the county’s Facilities Management Division is of Syrian descent and worked at a county public health clinic in Auburn from the early 90s on. He was paid a settlement of $225,000 after a mediation with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission resulting from a series of ethnic harassment incidents in the workplace from 2002 to 2009.

Fourth quarter 2011:
Sample case….

  • Former sheriff’s deputy James King received a settlement of $137,500 for workplace harassment which caused him to leave his job after he testified against a colleague for alleged use of excessive force against a detainee.

Second quarter 2012:
Sample cases….

  • Carol Jacobs received a settlement of $150,000 after she tripped and fell on four bolts sticking up from the ground at a removed Metro bus stop. She suffered a fracture and had surgery, and now experiences restricted motion and reduced strength.
  • A county juvenile detainee M.H. got a $300,000 settlement after his University of Washington mental health counselor Flor-Marie Crisostomo had sexual contact with him during counseling sessions before his 18th birthday. She sent him letters after his transfer to a state facility, and after investigation pled guilty to felony First Degree Sexual Misconduct, and was discharged. Although she “spent unusual amounts of time with M.H…county staff did not detect Ms. Criststomo’s sexual contact with him.”


First quarter 2012 large tort claims paid, King County (summary list only)

City Auditor: Seattle Legal and Liability Claims Total Nearly $75 Million Over Four Years,” Public Data Ferret

JLARC: Tort Claims Cost Washington $399 Million From ’04 to ’10,” Public Data Ferret

State Worker Car Crashes Cost $21 Million From ’07-’10,” Public Data Ferret

Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the Seattle-based 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

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