$1.1 million settlement over I-5 cable barriers

  • Wed May 12th, 2010 9:17pm
  • News

By Diana Hefley, Herald Writer

MARYSVILLE — The state has agreed to pay $1.1 million to a Snohomish woman who was severely injured in 2005 when her vehicle was struck by a car that plowed through cable barriers along I-5 outside of Marysville.

Aubrey Knapp, 27, suffered multiple broken bones in her right leg and foot. The settlement was reached earlier this year as Knapp recovered from her sixth surgery. It was announced Wednesday by her attorney, Fred Langer of Seattle.

Knapp faces additional surgeries. She has long-term nerve damage that causes her ongoing pain, Langer said.

Knapp is among a handful of people who filed lawsuits against the state Department of Transportation after a series of cross-over crashes involving cable barriers in a 10-mile stretch near Marysville.

Eight people died in cross-median crashes in that span of freeway between 2000 and 2007.

Earlier this year the state began replacing the cable barriers with concrete barriers.

“If the goal is to reduce cross-over crashes, the concrete barriers will do that,” said Jamie Holter, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation.

An investigation by The Herald in July 2005 showed that the cable barriers weren’t working as designed. An analysis of accident data by the newspaper showed that barriers failed 20 percent of the time to stop cars crossing the median along a 3-mile stretch of the freeway.

The state in 2006 installed a second set of cable barriers. A year later Gov. Chris Gregoire ordered an independent study of the barriers after Clifford Warren, of Everett, was killed in another cross-median crash.

A national traffic safety expert concluded that the cable barriers were the wrong tool to use in Marysville. The study also found that barriers had been improperly installed. The expert recommended that the state replace the cable barriers with concrete barriers on a 10-mile stretch of I-5.

The concrete barriers began going up in January. The $18.9 million project is expected to be complete by the end of the year.

Knapp filed the lawsuit in 2007 alleging that state officials were negligent when they incorrectly installed the cable barrier by placing it in the ditch in the median. The lawsuit also alleged that state failed to fix the problem even when it was brought to the attention of traffic officials years before the crash.

Knapp was driving northbound on I-5 to attend a family barbecue. She saw rocks, grass and a red object speeding toward her. She remembered screaming “No.”

An Arlington man headed southbound had lost control of his car, flew through the median and cable barriers and collided with Knapp’s Nissan Maxima. Emergency crews had to use the Jaws of Life to free Knapp from the wreckage.

Knapp’s medical bills total more than $200,000, Langer said.

Knapp was working for a chiropractor at the time of the crash. She is retraining for a career that doesn’t require her to be on her feet, her attorney said.

“She has a lifetime of treatment ahead of her,” Langer said.

His firm also represented a Bothell family whose teenage daughter was killed in 2004 crossover crash. The Holschens in 2006 agreed to drop litigation after the state agreed to pay them $2 million.

The state also paid $1 million to a Marysville woman whose parents and 6-year-old brother were killed in a crash in 2005. State officials also agreed to pay $300,000 to the family of a Tulalip man killed in 2003.

“At the end of the day, the state did the right thing,” Langer said. “They replaced the cable barriers and the gave fair compensation.”

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; hefley@heraldnet.com.