Washington Supreme Court Finds in Favor of Plaintiff in Injury Claim Against King County

The Washington Supreme Court recently decided an appeal involving a car accident in the case of Wuthrich v. King Cty. (Jan. 28, 2016). The plaintiff was riding a motorcycle when another motorist pulled out in front of him at an intersection. The plaintiff brought an action against the County, alleging that it was liable for his injuries because overgrown blackberry bushes obstructed the motorist’s view of traffic at the intersection. The lower court granted summary judgment in favor of the County, and the plaintiff appealed.

In order to recover on a common law claim of negligence, a plaintiff must establish:  (1) the existence of a duty to the plaintiff, (2) a breach of that duty, (3) a resulting injury, and (4) the breach was the proximate cause of the injury. In Washington, a municipality has a duty to maintain its roadways in a reasonably safe condition for ordinary travel. This duty is not confined to the asphalt. If a wall of roadside vegetation makes the roadway unsafe by blocking a driver’s view of oncoming traffic at an intersection, the municipality has a duty to take reasonable steps to address it.

In Wuthrich, the Washington Supreme Court explained that the overarching duty of a municipality is to provide reasonably safe roads for people to drive upon, and that addressing inherently dangerous or misleading conditions is simply part of that duty. The court went on to state that municipalities are generally held to a reasonableness standard consistent with that applied to private parties, and that Ruff v. County of King has been misread as holding that a municipality’s duty is limited to complying with applicable law and eliminating inherently dangerous conditions. In addition, the court explicitly held that to the extent that Rathbun, Bradshaw, and Barton hold that a municipality has no duty at all to address dangerous sight obstructions caused by roadside vegetation, it is no longer good law.

On appeal, the court held that whether the County breached its duty depended on a number of factual questions, such as whether the road was reasonably safe for ordinary travel, and whether the municipality made any reasonable efforts to correct any hazardous conditions. The court found that the plaintiff had introduced sufficient evidence to create genuine issues of material fact as to both of those questions. The court therefore concluded that, since there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether the County’s duty was breached and whether any breach proximately caused the plaintiff’s injuries, summary judgment was granted improperly against the plaintiff.

Consulting with a knowledgeable attorney after a motorcycle accident or other injury can be beneficial in determining your legal options, including whether to file suit against a negligent party. The personal injury attorneys at Blair & Kim, PLLC provide comprehensive legal advice and representation to accident victims in Washington, in addition to handling a variety of criminal and family law cases. To discuss your injury claim with one of our experienced attorneys, contact our office at (206) 622-6562 or online.

More Blog Posts:

Washington Appeals Court Examines Jury Award in Car Accident Case, Affirms Judge’s Grant of Additur, Seattle Attorneys Blog, published September 25, 2015

Washington Appeals Court Finds for Plaintiff, Reverses Summary Judgment in Car Accident Case, Seattle Attorneys Blog, published January 7, 2016

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