Washington’s Supreme Court says cities, counties and utility companies can be liable when faulty road design leads to injuries in car crashes – even when the driver is drunk.
In an 8-1 ruling Thursday, the justices overturned a lower court’s decision in a case involving a crash near Anacortes. There, two people who had been drinking were injured when their car ran off the road and struck a utility pole that was reportedly closer to the roadway than guidelines dictated.
The passenger, whose arm was disfigured, sued Skagit County and Puget Sound Energy. A lower court judge tossed the case, but the Supreme Court reinstated it, saying government entities owe a duty to ensure roads are reasonably safe for public travel, no matter whether the driver is at fault.
Nevertheless, in her majority opinion, Justice Debra Stevens said a jury could limit or negate Skagit County or the utility’s liability on other legal grounds.
Justice Jim Johnson dissented. He said the ruling will leave taxpayers on the hook when criminal activity results in car crashes.
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