A jury has found the city of Puyallup mostly to blame for a 2014 crash between a teen skateboarder and a pickup that left the skateboarder with permanent injuries.
The skateboarder argued that Puyallup did not safely install a crosswalk leading into Bradley Lake Park.
Puyallup will pay at least $4,355,000 in damages, according to judgment records filed Dec. 11 in Pierce County Superior Court.
Austin Fite, then 18, was skating across a crosswalk near the three-way intersection of Fifth Street Southeast, Seventh Street Southeast and 31st Avenue Southeast when he was struck by a pickup in 2014.
Fite’s attorney, Ben Barcus, said his client sustained multiple skull fractures and bilateral eye detachments that left him legally blind in his left eye and nearly legally blind in his right eye. His left leg was severely fractured, needing pins and a metal rod. Fite also sustained a traumatic brain injury, Barcus said.
Fite sued the driver, claiming negligent driving, and the city of Puyallup over faulty road design. At the time of the collision, the crosswalk, which leads to a path in Bradley Lake Park, was a few feet from the intersection. Barcus said Puyallup failed to design and construct a safe crosswalk. He argued that the lighting, design, road signs and location were inadequate.
Barcus said the crosswalk was in “no man’s land” and “created an odd dynamic.”
A jury ruled Nov. 27 that the city bore the brunt of the blame for the collision. The driver, who admitted guilt, was found to carry a third of the responsibility. The judgment against him: $2,145,000.
Puyallup city attorney Joe Beck said it is highly likely the city will pay the entire $6.5 million judgment because the city is liable for the funds not paid by the driver. Beck said the crosswalk met every standard.
“We work hard to make sure our streets are safe, but sometimes two people are just not paying attention and get into an accident, and the city has to pick up the tab,” Beck told The Puyallup Herald. “I firmly believe this is one of those cases.”
At the time of the accident, the city was making plans to move the crosswalk to better align with the intersection, Beck said. It has since been relocated.
The city’s insurance company, Washington Cities Insurance Authority, will cover the costs, but the claim will raise Puyallup’s insurance rates.
“Not directly out of pocket for the city, but it will ultimately cost the city more money,” Beck said.
The city will decide in the coming months whether to appeal the decision.