March 25, 2002
Decision reached in traffic circle lawsuit
by Jeanette Knutson
Gary Werner is a teacher at Woodinville High School. Up until last October, he drove a 1991 Pontiac Grand Am. He liked the car so much, he had a new engine put in it.
On the dark, rainy evening of Oct. 12, Werner's daughter used his Grand Am - which only had seven miles on the new engine - to run a quick errand.
The darkness, the rain, the oncoming headlights of cars entering the development are all factors, his daughter said, which explain why she, most regrettably, ran into a traffic island under construction at approximately 157th Street and 124th Avenue Northeast. The traffic island, by the way, was unmarked. There were no barrels, no reflectors, no caution tape.
The car was totaled.
On Jan. 7, Werner and his son-in-law Ty Balascio appeared before the Woodinville City Council to unfurl their story. The city had met their claim for damages with apathy, they said. The loss prevention officer for Tydico Inc., the company responsible for the construction of the speed island, first told Balascio that Tydico was not liable for any damages to the vehicle. Tydico later proffered a settlement offer of $1,000, which Balascio turned down.
"Either the city agrees to arbitration or we will settle the matter before a judge," Balascio told the council.
City Manager Pete Rose explained the city's position: The city is a member of an insurance pool. That group would handle the insurance claim. The role of the city was input. The city could not agree to arbitration.
Last Monday, March 18, Balascio appeared before the City Council again, this time to invite council members to court.
"Two months ago ... citizens stood before you stating that the streets this city manages are unsafe. It is taking a lawsuit to get the facts supporting this allegation heard," Balascio said.
City Manager Rose told the council the city had sent a letter to its insurance pool and one to Tydico. He felt, he said, the city had made good on its promises.
Last Thursday, March 21, six people sat in the City of Woodinville's corner at the Northeast District Court in Redmond. It didn't take Judge David S. Admire five minutes to get Tydico and the City of Woodinville to admit the construction was unsigned and should have been.
It took over an hour for the facts of the case to be presented by both sides.
Before Judge Admire issued a judgment, he offered both sides the opportunity to go out into the hall and reach some sort of agreement.
"Once I decide, you both lose control. You both have certain negative things to your (case). Why wasn't (the construction) marked? Why didn't you see it? While (the situation) is still in your control, take five, 10 minutes to try to reach a solution," said Judge Admire.
All interested parties filed into the hall in hopes of settling on an agreement. They deliberated for some 10 minutes and re-entered the courtroom en masse.
According to Balascio, the group agreed to a damage amount but had been unable to agree on an assessment of liability.
The judge would have to decide. And so he did.
After examining various pieces of evidence, Judge Admire noted the construction had not been marked at the time of the accident. He also noted that Mrs. Balascio bore some responsibility for the accident.
He awarded $3,500 for the vehicle, assessing 40 percent liability to Mrs. Balascio and 60 percent to Tydico, who has agreed, through contract, to hold the City of Woodinville harmless.
Mr. Werner, after assessments of liability are considered, will receive $2,100 for his car.
Said Balascio after the trial, "As for the outcome, we conceded from the first day that (my wife) owned part of the fault for the accident. This finding of fact simply confirmed what we attempted to state for six months: The city and the contractor failed their duty to the traveling public. That failure contributed to October's accident."
Marie Stake, communications services coordinator, speaking on behalf of City Manger Rose, said, "The city's goal was that justice be served and it was. (Mr. Balascio's) option to go to small claims court was a valid option."