Gendler v. Batiste, Washington State Patrol. Et. al
Imagine that you start off on a long bike ride with your friend on the streets of Seattle. Your bicycle tire catches on a metal grating gap, and throws you over your handlebars. You become a quadriplegic because someone at WSDOT forgot to follow-through with reports of a hazardous road years ago.
Only able to move with a wheelchair and to carry on through the day with the assistance of others, imagine if you were told that you could not get compensated for all of the medical bills, help with your daily activities, loss of income due to the injury, etc.?
This is what happened in the case of Gendler, except that the injured cyclist, Mickey Gender, was allowed to sue the state. At depositions, the attorneys for Gendler was surprised to learn that WSDOT had known about the cyclist hazard on the Montlake Bridge for several years - doing nothing at all to address the issue.
Due to the wisdom of this state’s waiver of sovereign immunity, WSDOT settled with Gendler for the amount of $8 million. The risk management director for WSDOT, John Milton, agreed that this amount was justified.
Take a look at some of the following documents and decide for yourself, whether it is a good that we continue to hold the government accountable when it is wrong:
- Diary excerpt and deposition testimony reveal details that the government already knew about the problem on the Montlake Bridge that caused a bicycle injury in 2000, years before Mickey Gendler was ever injured on his bike. The WSDOT Chief Inspector had planned to check out the problem, but then never followed through.
- A recent article reports the Gendler v. Batiste ruling, that allows potential plaintiffs to obtain accident reports.
- Despite the court’s ruling to turn over public records even if citizens want to hold the government accountable, Assistant Attorney General Rene Tomisser says that it will still object and refuse to comply.
We think that you will agree that it Washington citizens are better off with the ability to keep governmental entities accountable for their missteps and wrongdoing.
Facts Related to Gendler V. State
You may have heard an interview on NPR, read a blog post, or read a story in The Seattle Times about this case. In the era of media spin and 15-second sound bites, it’s more often that we are forced to make assessments without the benefit of the facts.
If you are interested in knowing the facts behind the story, read on. Make, remake, or confirm your opinion of what this case was about.
The State owns the Montlake Bridge.
The State has a duty to make all roadways safe for not just cars, but also bicycles. The roadway across the Bridge was not safe for bicycles, the State knew it, and chose not to fix the problem.
No other business or government entity was responsible for the safety of the Bridge besides the State.
The Montlake Bridge
The Montlake Bridge had been unsafe for bicycles since 1999 (the State repaired the hazard in 2009).
The State started a retrofit of the Montlake Bridge in Seattle. The project included replacing the metal grate surface of the traffic lanes. The replacement grate was of a different design than the existing. The seam, formed by two abutting sections of grate, sits in the middle of the lanes of traffic.
The specifications for the Bridge deck called for a narrow seam, one that would not have posed a danger to bicycle tires. The State allowed the deck seam to be wider than the specifications called for (based on tolerances), wide enough for a road bike tire to drop into it.
1999 - Notice to the State of a Danger
During the deck replacement project, the State found out how dangerous the seam could be. A cyclist crashed when his front bicycle tire wedged in the seam and he was thrown to the deck face-first.
Concerned about other cyclists, he contacted the City of Seattle, who contacted the State’s project manager to inspect the problem.
The State’s project manager made a note about the crash in his project diary.
1999 to 2099 - The State Ignored the Danger
- The State’ project manager does not recall ever following up.
- The State could have erected a warning sign – it did not.
- The State could have fixed the problem – it assumed this would not happen again.
- The State could have closed the roadway to bicycle traffic – it did not.
Mickey's Crash - October 28, 2007
Mickey met up with a friend to go for a ride around the south end of Lake Washington. They intersected near UW Medical Center.
It was a quiet Sunday afternoon on Montlake, not much traffic, so they traveled on the road. There was no traffic within a block’s length behind them. Mickey rode in the right lane.
Halfway across the Bridge he switched to the left lane to prepare for a left turn. As he traversed the lane, he was suddenly thrown over his front bars onto the Bridge deck on his back. His front wheel had wedged into the seam in the deck. It took two people to dislodge the wheel.
Bicycles on the Bridge
In comments to the multiple articles written about Mickey’s case, many were critical of his decision to ride on the roadway rather than on the sidewalk.
This case settled in the months leading up to the trial date, but in pre-trial motions the court determined that Mickey had the right to ride on the roadway and that Mickey had the right to travel in the left lane because he was preparing for a turn.
- “[I]t is the ruling of this Court that bicycles are entitled to travel upon the Montlake Bridge roadway as a matter of law.” Judge McPhee, February 16, 2010.
- “Plaintiff Michael Gendler's operation of his bicycle in the inside (left) lane of the Montlake Bridge at the time of the subject incident was authorized by law.” Judge McPhee, May 28, 2010.
The Settlement Amount
What does $8 million mean? It’s not winning the lottery. It’s not a windfall. The settlement amount represents the exorbitant costs of the care for someone with a spinal cord injury. To learn more about Mickey’s life as a quadriplegic, read this article.