Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Metro’s share of King County’s big tort payouts spikes in Q3

by November 8th, 2012

King County Metro Transit was responsible for 71 percent of third quarter 2012 large negligence claim settlements paid by the county, according to a newly issued report. Metro’s share of those payouts is up from 50 percent for the first two quarters of the year, and just more than one-quarter of the total last year. A county ordinance requires quarterly online disclosure of large tort settlements, but that hasn’t happened and there’s no related public database. The data, when issued, can be found through a somewhat obscure county information portal including links to legislation and reports.

As it does every quarter of the year, King County this summer settled a series of what it classifies as major negligence, or tort, claims – those of $100,000 or more. The county is self-insured and pays all claims from a special fund of its own, except those over $7.5 million, for which it has outside insurance. County tort payouts in the third quarter of this year totaled more than $1.4 million dollars. Exactly $1 million or 71 percent of that amount stemmed from mishaps involving the county’s Metro bus system, according to a new Q1 through Q3 2012 tort payouts report to the King County Council from Jennifer Hills, the Director of the Office of Risk Management. The 71 percent share for Metro of the county’s large negligence claim payouts in Q3 compares to 50 percent for Metro in the first two quarters of the year combined; versus just more than one quarter of the county total for Metro in 2011; and nearly two-thirds in 2010, as we reported earlier this year.

In July of this year Metro settled for $150,000 with Jane Maclean stemming from a 2008 case when the rear section of a long “articulated” bus was angled to the curb, not parallel to it, at a bus stop in downtown Seattle at Third Avenue and Pine Street. She reported it was too far for her to reach the curb as the debarked but at the same time there not enough space to step cleanly into the street. Her foot twisted when landing betwixt the curb and street and her ankle was fractured, requiring surgery and three months of lost wages during recovery.

In August the county settled with Terrance Brewster for $450,000 on a 2006 mishap. He had been sitting in a Metro shelter waiting for a bus. It was an older, 1974-vintage shelter that put those seated with their backs to traffic; yet a third closer closer to the curb than in newer shelters which had stricter setback requirements. After a drunk driver plowed into the shelter Brewster received numerous fractures and cuts requiring surgeries. He got a settlement of $850,000 from the Triangle Lounge which the county report says “over-served the drunk driver,” but he subsequently sued the county for its role.

In September of this year the county settled for $200,000 with Nolan Phelps a July 2010 accident at East Marginal Way and South Myrtle Street in Seattle when he was hit in a pedestrian crossing by a Metro driver beginning to accelerate from a stop at the intersection. He tried to jump on the front-mounted bike rack of the bus to avoid injury but fell, requiring surgery later for a bruised shin and ruptured triceps, and physical therapy for a partly torn shoulder tendo. Also this September the county settled for $200,000 with Linda Olson a 2007 accident in which her car was side-swiped by a Metro bus that crossed into her lane while she waited to turn left at South Spokane Street and First Ave. in Seattle, leading to knee surgery for her.

The only non-Metro-related large tort settlement in the third quarter of this year resulted from mediation and was for $402,173.88 to LeRoy Bergstrom in suburban King County. It was in connection with an early 2009 “Pineapple Express” storm that loosed a landslide in the Rattlesnake Mountain Scenic Area co-owned by the county and state. Bergstrom maintained that a logging road degraded in the heavy rainfall and quick-melting mountain snowpack, and caused a damaging debris flow into his home near Fall City, of mud, water, wood debris and vegetation.

Under a county ordinance passed in 2010, the Office of Risk Management is to report quarterly in an electronic format on large tort claim settlements by King County. At present, the Office of Risk Management does not provide a related online public database. The reports are issued – not always quarterly, it has turned out – in .pdf document form. They are not posted at Risk Management’s web site, but can be found through a county portal including links to legislation and reports.


King County’s Big Tort Claims: $37.3 Million In Last 2.5 Years

State Car Worker Crashes Cost $21 Million From ’07-’10

JLARC: Tort Claims Cost Washington $399 Million From ’04 To ’10

Seattle Legal And Liability Claims Total Nearly $75 Million Over Four Years

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