Judge: Wrongful death lawsuit over Highway 522 can proceed

The plaintiffs say median barriers are needed. The state says the road is safe, and major fixes are unfunded.

The state says the stretch of highway in question was “in reasonably safe condition for ordinary travel.” The plaintiffs say it was “inherently dangerous.” (Washington State Department of Transportation)

The state says the stretch of highway in question was “in reasonably safe condition for ordinary travel.” The plaintiffs say it was “inherently dangerous.” (Washington State Department of Transportation)

MONROE — A wrongful death lawsuit over conditions on Highway 522 can go to trial, a Snohomish County judge has decided.

The plaintiffs represent families who lost a total of three people in a 2014 crash. Two separate suits were rolled into one case earlier this year.

In recent weeks, the state unsuccessfully argued it had legal immunity and asked the judge to dismiss all claims.

In court papers, the state Department of Transportation said that the stretch of highway in question was “in reasonably safe condition for ordinary travel.” Meanwhile, the plaintiffs say it was “inherently dangerous,” and that median barriers would have stopped cross-over collisions.

Both sides cite crash data in their conclusions.

The 2014 wreck happened when a 24-year-old driver in a Mitsubishi Eclipse crossed the center line into oncoming traffic near Fales Road. Washington State Patrol troopers believe that he fell asleep at the wheel, drifted onto the shoulder, struck a construction barrel and overcorrected.

Stanley and Joan Kinger, who were in their 70s, were struck in their vehicle and suffered fatal injuries. The Mitsubishi driver’s baby girl, Isabella Rose Bednarski, also was killed.

Her father was issued a traffic infraction for second-degree negligent driving. He is named as a defendant in the suit. The Kingers’ relatives, Isabella’s mother and the estates are among the plaintiffs.

The Legislature hasn’t funded construction for new medians in that area, from Paradise Lake Road to the Snohomish River bridge, according to the state. There has been money set aside for analysis and design, but much of that isn’t available until at least the mid-2020s.

“It would be cost prohibitive to install median barriers on all two-lane roads,” the state argued in court. “Just installing median barriers at the subject location would costs tens of millions of dollars.”

Highway 522 has rumble strips between opposite lanes along the stretch near Fales Road, which the state says has significantly reduced head-on crashes since 1995. The plaintiffs say the rumble strips were inadequate.

Until 2003, Highway 522 was two lanes from east of Highway 9 into Monroe. There is a long-term plan to widen the length of it to four lanes, with median barriers. That work is being done in phases. About two-thirds of it has been completed — but not in the area of the 2014 fatalities.

Conversations also are ongoing about reworking the Paradise Lake Road interchange.

The wrongful death lawsuit is set for trial in January.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @rikkiking.

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