$28M Settlement to Woman Paralyzed in Highway Barrier Crash in 2013
By Dean I. Weitzman, Esq. on October 19th, 2018
A 20-year-old Washington state woman has reached a $28 million settlement with the state’s Department of Transportation after being paralyzed from the chest down in 2013 when the vehicle she was riding in smashed into a concrete highway pillar that lacked a guardrail or other safety barrier.
Skylar Seward, who was 15 at the time of the crash on Interstate 5 near DuPont in Pierce County, was seriously injured when the car smashed into a highway pillar that was equipped only with an earth berm, which did not prevent the car from striking the pillar, according to an Oct. 15 story in The Seattle Times. The car Seward was riding in had swerved left off the roadway just before the crash on Oct. 12, 2013.
Seward sued the state in 2016, “alleging that the roadway was unsafe and the state was negligent for not replacing the berm with a concrete Jersey barrier or guardrail,” the story reported. Instead of providing protection to motorists by using a metal guard rail or other physical means to prevent vehicle from striking the pillars in crashes, the earthen berm “served as a sort of ramp, directing the car into the structure, according to court documents.”
The state DOT knew the earthen berms were dangerous and had plans and funding to replace all 198 such mounds throughout the state, but the work was never fully done in DuPont, the story continued.
“The state of Washington has known for decades that earth berms are not a suitable barrier between the roadway and fixed objects, such as the concrete pillars,” the victim’s lawsuit stated. The state even revised its road design manual after a 2003 fatal crash on Highway 522 involving an earth berm, the story reported. “In 2006, [the state’s DOT] started a six-year plan to replace all the earth berms it had built over the past decades.”
At the location where Seward’s crash occurred, guards had been retro-fitted only on the northbound side of the highway, not on the southbound side where she was injured, the story reported. Her attorneys wrote that the state DOT “did not know why this barrier was not installed, nor did it have any idea what happened to the money it was provided for the project.”
Of 201 earthen berms that had been identified by the state for needed repairs, 26 remain unfixed on state roads and highways and are due to be replaced by 2021, each costing $80,000 to $120,000 to replace, according to the state DOT.
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