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Can a City Be Sued when a Car Kills a Pedestrian in a Crosswalk?

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A Washington court has cleared the way for a family of man killed in a dangerous Seattle crosswalk to move their Washington wrongful death case to trial.  Run Sen Liu was killed in a Seattle crosswalk when he was hit by a car in 2007.  Mr. Liu had almost reached the other side of the five lane street when he was hit by the car.  Mr. Liu was in a coma for 2 years and his medical bills are over $1 million.

The Washington Court of Appeals has ruled that when a city knows about a dangerous crosswalk from past injuries including fatalities in a particular crosswalk, then a jury may decide whether the city is partially at fault for another death that happened in the dangerous crosswalk. 

The court in its ruling is allowing the jury to answer whether the particular crosswalk was dangerous, and if so, whether the City of Seattle was at fault for failing to make it safer.  The fatal accident involving Mr. Liu was the second at the crosswalk in question.

The court stated a "[city] has a duty to all travelers to maintain its roadways in conditions that are safe for ordinary travel."  This includes pedestrians in crosswalk on those roadways.  The crosswalk in question was at an intersection that did not have a stop light or stop sign, only an overhead crosswalk sign.  In 1999 the city installed a center pedestrian island to help pedestrians cross the busy street.  In 2002 the island was removed at the request of a local business.  There were no reported crosswalk injuries during the time the island was in place.

The case will likely hinge on whether the jury believes Seattle had a duty to keep the island in place or replace it with some other safety device.  If so, then Seattle will share in the blame for Mr. Liu's tragic death.  

You may wonder why Seattle is even being sued.  Although, I don't know the specific facts of the case, it is not uncommon in high value cases to look to at other potential defendants because of the large damages associated with wrongful death claims.  With $1 million in medical bills it's likely the at fault driver does not have enough car insurance to pay the medical bills, let alone the lost income Mrs. Liu has suffered from the premature death of her husband, and the emotional loss and support that Mrs. Liu and her children have suffered as well.  It's is not uncommon to see Washington wrongful death jury verdicts of several million dollars in cases like Mr. Liu's. 

The City of Seattle has the right to appeal to the Washington Supreme Court.  It'll be interesting to see what happens with this case.

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