An appellate court ruling Monday will allow a lawsuit against the city of Seattle for a deadly 2013 drunken-driving crash in Wedgwood to proceed.
It will be up to a King County jury to decide if the city of Seattle failed to properly supervise a repeat drunken driver who killed a retired Indiana couple and critically injured their daughter-in-law and her infant son in a March 2013 crash, the state Court of Appeals ruled on Monday.
In an unpublished opinion, a three-judge panel sided with Daniel Schulte; his wife, Karina Ulriksen-Schulte; and his sister Marilyn Schulte in their wrongful-death and personal-injury lawsuit against the city and Mark W. Mullan, who was drunk when he plowed into four family members as they crossed a street in Seattle’s Wedgwood neighborhood. The Schultes’ parents were killed in the crash.
It was the city’s third failed attempt to remove itself as a party in the lawsuit, with the appellate judges deciding “intervention by this court is not warranted,” thereby sending the case back to Superior Court, presumably for trial.
The Schulte family contends that Mullan’s probation officer was grossly negligent in supervising him on an earlier charge of driving under the influence (DUI) and that “with proper supervision” Mullan would never have been behind the wheel on the day of the fatal crash, the opinion says. Instead, he would’ve been in jail or subject to closer alcohol-monitoring supervision, it says.
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Meanwhile, the city argued Mullan’s probation officer complied with the policies and procedures of Seattle Municipal Court, fulfilling the city’s duty of limited supervision for someone facing a misdemeanor DUI charge, the opinion said. The city has also argued there is insufficient evidence of gross negligence to send the issue to a jury.
“Of course we are disappointed with the decision. Our torts attorneys will review the ruling with our clients to decide the next steps,” Kimberly Mills, a spokeswoman for City Attorney Pete Holmes, said Monday.
John Christensen, a Tacoma attorney who is representing the Schulte family, said the Court of Appeals made the right call in affirming the trial court’s decision to deny summary judgment.
“The smoking gun is the ignition interlock,” which Mullan failed to install in his vehicle despite being under a court order to do so, Christensen said. “They didn’t even ask about it,” he said of the city’s probation officials.
Mullan, now 54, was sentenced to nearly 18 years in prison in November 2013 after pleading guilty to two counts of vehicular homicide, two counts of vehicular assault and violating the state’s ignition-interlock law. His blood alcohol content was 0.22 — almost three times the legal limit of 0.08 — when he fatally struck retired schoolteachers Judy Schulte, 68, and her husband, Dennis Schulte, 66.
Karina Ulriksen-Schulte, a nurse at Seattle Children’s hospital, and her 10-day-old son, Elias, were both critically injured and spent months in the hospital. The elder Schultes had just purchased a house in Seattle to be closer to their son and his family, who lived 500 feet from the site of the fatal crash on Northeast 75th Street.
The Schultes filed their civil lawsuit against the city and Mullan in October 2013, court records show.
The city sought to have the case dismissed, but Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ramsdell denied the city’s motion for summary judgment on Oct. 29, 2014, and a few weeks later, he denied the city’s motion to reconsider his denial, according to court records filed in the case.
The city then sought discretionary review by the Court of Appeals, which upheld Ramsdell’s denial for summary judgment.
At the time of the fatal collision, Mullan was on probation for a Dec. 25, 2012, DUI charge. In that case, he twice slammed his pickup into a motel on Aurora Avenue North and was so drunk he couldn’t stand without the help of Seattle police officers.
As part of his probation conditions, he was ordered not to drink alcohol and to have an interlock device installed in his black Chevy Silverado pickup.
When he was arrested for DUI in Seattle, charges against Mullan were also pending in Snohomish County after his arrest for DUI in October 2012.
In the Snohomish County case, Mullan failed to show up for a court hearing in January 2013, and a warrant was issued for his arrest, according to the Court of Appeals opinion. Mullan was drunk when he appeared in court 10 days later to have the warrant quashed and as a result, he was booked into jail for a little over two weeks before he posted bail, it says.
But Mullan’s probation officer in Seattle didn’t track his DUI case in Snohomish County and was seemingly unaware he had violated conditions of his probation by drinking alcohol, says the opinion, which notes the information was readily available in a statewide courts database.
The Schultes’ suit also alleges the probation officer took Mullan at his word and never tried to confirm with other sources that he was abiding by his probation conditions, the opinion says.
“Arguably, through such an inquiry, she would have discovered that Mullan was missing treatment appointments and was continuing to drink and drive,” it says.
The probation officer also never required Mullan to show proof that he had an interlock device installed in his vehicle, according to the opinion and court records filed in the civil suit.
Information in this article, originally published July 18, 2016, was corrected July 19, 2016. The name of Tacoma attorney John Christensen was misspelled in an earlier version.