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Times: Seattle settles Kung estate claim for $3.5 million

Photo taken September 1, 2014
Photo taken September 1, 2014

Seattle has settled a claim with the estate of the late Sher Kung for $3.5 million, the Seattle Times reports.

Kung was killed at 2nd and University in August 2014 just ten days before the dangerous paint-only bike lane on the street was upgraded to a protected bike lane. Though the person who turned the truck into her path had been texting around the time of the collision, he was not charged.

Kung was a new mother on her way to work as an attorney at Perkins Coie. She had already made a big splash in her young career by working on a case that helped overturn Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

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Some details of the settlement are confidential, the Times reports:

The payment resolves a claim that the city’s “failure to prepare an adequate traffic-control plan created dangerous conditions for bicyclists,” according to a claims list from the city’s risk-management division.

City staff and David Whedbee, a lawyer for Kung’s fiancée, said a confidentiality agreement precludes discussion of settlement details.

A check sent June 21 represents only its share of the settlement, which includes other parties, said Julie Moore, spokeswoman for the city Department of Finance and Administrative Services.

The city would not identify the other parties.

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18 responses to “Times: Seattle settles Kung estate claim for $3.5 million”

  1. Andres Salomon

    To quote @kptrease, “If the city had spent this money on great bike infrastructure years ago, we’d have it now. And a little girl would have her mom.”

    So disappointing that we continue to delay the downtown bike network.

    1. Breadbaker

      The sad thing is that the budget for fixing the bike infrastructure and the budget for settling lawsuits for, among other things, failing to fix the bike infrastructure, are different budgets. So as reasonable as it seems from the outside to just do the right thing with the money instead of spending it like this, the reality is that the city doesn’t fix everything and skates along due to the fact that people don’t die on so much of the infrastructure it hasn’t adequately maintained, only to pay out settlements like this when it does.

      One has no idea how much of the liability was allocated to the city in the settlement. An attorney at Perkins Coie in her age bracket probably had a pretty huge likely earnings stream, so the total amount of damages in a case like this would be several times what the city paid.

  2. don

    Why do we have laws about distracted driving and how was this driver able to get away with this? Safety infrastructure is good but obeying the law is good as well. I wish we knew the details. that driver shoulder share in this settlement.

    just my humble opinion

    1. Becky

      The Times article said: “Investigators think the driver was texting about 20 seconds before the collision, according to a case description by the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. The truck’s left-turn signal was blinking. The driver wasn’t calling or texting at the moment of impact, according to the statement.”

      I don’t even know where to begin with how frustrating that is. 20 seconds before your turn you need to be looking at the road.

  3. Skylar

    Is there any sign that this settlement (and the much larger one on Mercer Island) are waking up departments of transportation to the need to build safe roads before anyone gets hurt or killed? Or is the fact that SDOT can just pay out of their self-insurance mean they can go back to business as usual?

  4. Sometimes the whole justice system has really weird results.

    Kill someone you had no real excuse not to see with a car or truck and there’s essentially no punishment unless the state can prove you were doing some specific thing like texting or drinking.

    But a settlement like this, though it probably denies any wrongdoing privately and publicly, tacitly admits the city is liable to victims… for building out a street network broadly similar to that of every other American city.

    Now I’m sure the driver (or probably an insurance company) paid a civil claim, also, and standards of evidence are very different in civil and criminal proceedings. Still, if the city indeed could be found liable here then any city could be found liable for almost any bike collision anywhere. Not to be morbid or anything, but it makes me want to put a bit in my will, stating that in the unlikely event I’m killed on the road in similar circumstances, that I want a claim like this to go to trial just so I can see how it turns out (from down in Hell, on Fox News).

    1. Law Abider

      Your third paragraph describes exactly my question on why the City was liable for any payout. 2nd Ave, which we all know sucked big time back then, was built to accepted standards at some point in time. Yes, it needed to be updated to modern day usage, but that wasn’t codified anywhere other than wishful thinking. Plus, the fact that the City was just days away from installing what is now the 2nd Ave Bikeway, shows that City was in the process of rectifying it and shouldn’t have been liable for anything. It SHOULD, however, have been a wake up call to the City to fast track more bike infrastructure, which it clearly hasn’t been.

      The City shouldn’t have had to pay a cent, it should have all been on the truck company. Now there is $3.5 million less to put towards bike infrastructure. This lawsuit is a dangerous precedent.

      1. Steve Campbell

        Except at the time the city had plans to update 2nd avenue to make it safer for bikes. The fact that the city had a plan to update the facility is strong evidence that SDOT thought the old bike lane was inadequate and unsafe at the time of the accident.

      2. Law Abider

        So this now sets the precedent that SDOT should stop determining the adequacy and safety of any routes. By even planning on fixing a problem, they are now liable for admitting there was a problem in the first place? In fact, scrap the whole Bicycle Master Plan, because if anyone gets injured or killed on ANY of the identified routes: BOOM lawsuit.

        I can’t wait for all the lawsuits that are now going to come from Missing Link injuries. The current business owner litigants will laugh as we delay it indefinitely ourselves with lawsuit after lawsuit.

      3. Thing is, as long as the case doesn’t get litigated and the settlement includes a gag order there’s no real precedent set at all.

        The city probably doesn’t want to risk any precedent being set over this, and thus wants to avoid litigation. Probably anyone with some money and a good lawyer can scare the city into paying out something. But if you don’t have the money the city might decide it’s cheaper to hold out until you exhaust your resources.

        This is, needless to say, not justice.

        So, you know, suppose I’m dead without any children, line extinguished, legacy sealed, for such a stupid reason as someone couldn’t be bothered to look at the road when driving. Maybe I’d order my whole estate blown to test the city’s liability in a court of law.

        I might, however, prefer to die (posthumously) on this hill: that the state has been denying cyclists the legal protection we deserve by systematically failing to prosecute irresponsible drivers, and by continuing to issue them drivers’ licenses. I mean, the statement is true. But it might be a hard case, because it’s largely on judges and juries — judges and juries are so blinded by motor-mind that there’s hardly any point prosecuting drivers for anything or trying to revoke their licenses.

      4. Josh

        2nd Ave did not meet accepted standards at the time it was installed.

        The traffic control for sidepath construction on 2nd Ave at the time of the crash also did not meet accepted standards.

        SDOT has a long history of not meeting accepted standards for bicycle facilities, something that aggravated the City Council so much that they actually wrote it into the adopting resolution for the 2014 BMP Update, mandating that new facilities “meet or exceed the latest federal, state, and local guidelines.”

        But even making it official city policy doesn’t make it so — SDOT continues to install bicycle infrastructure that violates AASHTO, FHWA, WSDOT, and NACTO standards and guidance.

        As this case shows, cutting those corners can come at quite a cost.

      5. Law Abider

        @Josh When was the previous striping of 2nd Ave (Parking/Bike/3 Travel Lanes/Bus-Turn Lane) first laid out? What where the road standards at the time and what contemporary standards did 2nd Ave striping violate at the time?

        For reference, here’s what 2nd Ave looked like before hand:

  5. Dana

    They need a safe connection from the Mt. to Sound bikeway to the 2nd Ave/4th Ave bike lanes, in both directions.

    It is crazy riding from Dearborn (with a 4 ft lane), merging onto on 4th ave with no bike lanes, then changing lanes after Jackson with four lanes and no bike lane, cars honking at you for being in a sharrow lane, then moving to the 4th ave bike lane, having cars cut the corner under the Yesler Bridge.

    Then on the way south, turning onto Jackson from 2nd ave being behind a bus that stops at 5th and Jackson and having to pass in the streetcar tracks before making to Dearborn with another 4 ft lane all the way up to Rainier.

    These terrible areas compounded with Seattle drivers’ love for speed, running red lights, and blocking intersections makes my commute like playing game of frogger. My wife would not be happy if she saw what I had to do to get home.

    Give me a freakin’ break Seattle. How can you build so many cool pieces of infrastructure with so many completely unsafe and terrible connectors.

    1. Gary

      If you are coming from the Eastside on Dearborn, my suggestion is head into the International District on Maynard, ride to Jackson, turn left carefully onto Jackson by waiting until you are fully across the tracks. Then ride down to 4th, after crossing 5th, switch to the second most right lane and make a wide turn onto 4th outside of all the other turning cars. Hold that lane until you reach the bike lane. Don’t ride in the far left lane unless you want to be cut off by people turning left onto 3rd. It’s only two blocks, but be brave and take that lane. Cars know that they are about to enter gridlock and won’t mind much.

      I’ve tried nearly every other route and this is the best as it gets.

      1. Dana

        I don’t like riding across the tracks with buses. If there are buses stopped letting passengers off, to pass I have to get into the lane with the tracks.

        If I just stay on Dearborn until it turns into 4th, I just stay in the bus lane until Jackson, then merge into the second lane from the left until it hits the 4th Ave bike lane. Doing your way still doesn’t solve the problem of 4th Ave until the Yesler Bridge.

        Neither way is ideal though and I can see why someone would like one way or the other.

      2. Josh

        Coming west on the I-90 Trail, I find it safest not to go down Dearborn at all.

        I stay on the Trail a bit longer and take 12th down to King Street.

  6. Wells

    “Because motor vehicles impose an extreme impediment to all road uses – pedestrian crosswalks, transit use, safer bikeways and lanes – motor vehicles can/should be considered a “Constitutional Inequity” and a sort of transportation system monopoly.

    Bicyclists today take extreme risks to uphold highest ideals of justice.
    Lives are lost defending the prospect of a sustainable future for others.

    The beauty of bicycling is found in public spaces shared with walkers and transit users who finally see no need to drive. Somewhere cities erect statues to bicyclists. Bicycling writ large on a raised landscaped corner; writ small within surrounding rows
    of darkened garage towers and menacing sharp-edge traffic inches away.

  7. Erik

    It disgusts me the driver wasn’t charged. Texting or not if you can’t identify whether or not someone is in the lane you are going to cross you don’t cross. Sad that someone can get away with killing someone through negligence and not be charged. The lack of accountability continues to lead to more of these situations as tacitly many drivers react to the culture as is.

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