Jurors decided the county is not to blame for a car accident on a rural King County road seven years ago in which two boys died in the Green River. Families of the victims will appeal, attorneys say.
A jury has found that King County was not at fault for the deaths of two children after the car they were riding in plunged off a rain-slicked road and into the Green River nearly seven years ago.
Jurors in the eight-week civil trial deliberated for about one day before reaching the unanimous verdict on Friday at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent.
The families of the two victims, Austin Fuda, 13, and 2-year-old Hunter Beaupre, sued the county, saying poor design and maintenance of the rural road in unincorporated King County was partly to blame for the fatal accident on Nov. 7, 2008. The driver, Loni Mundell, was related to the two boys.
Mundell, who was then a 16-year-old novice driver, was driving her stepbrother Austin and her cousin Hunter to school when she lost control of her car in the 29000 block of Green River Road Southeast. Her car spun around 180 degrees on the rural two-lane road and slid backward down a slope into the rain-swollen river.
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Mundell escaped from the car, but neither of the boys survived.
Although Mundell admitted that she was at least partly to blame for the accident, the parents of Austin and Hunter sued the county as well as Mundell, claiming that the road, constructed in 1934, had been poorly designed and negligently maintained.
At the time of the accident, the roadway was lined with maple trees and littered with leaves.
During closing arguments, Jim Dore Jr., an attorney for the plaintiffs, said that had the county widened the narrow 9½ -foot-wide road, installed berms or kept the road free of fallen leaves, “we wouldn’t be here talking about what is hard to talk about, the priceless life of a child.”
Lawyers for the county insisted the road was safe and said they had never received complaints from the approximately 1.6 million drivers who had traveled over five years.
“It was a tragic accident that happened on a safe road,” said Daniel Kinerk, one of the county’s defense lawyers.
Dore said Wednesday the verdict was “disappointing but not unexpected.”
“Our clients don’t feel they got a fair trial,” added Dore.
According to Dore, King County Superior Court Judge Tanya Thorp barred the plaintiffs’ attorneys from telling jurors that there had been no guardrail at the location of the accident — unlike other sections of the road — and that the county had installed a guardrail and cut down the row of maple trees shortly after the deaths.
The case was further complicated by allegations by the attorneys for the dead boys’ families who claimed that the county’s civil attorneys had used the threat of prosecution against Mundell, the driver, to intimidate her into not taking the stand.
The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, which represented the county in the case, denied the claim.
Court documents show that prosecutors reviewed the case and determined that Mundell was likely driving too fast for the conditions, but declined to file charges against her, saying that her “failure to maintain control of her car in this incident is insufficient to find she was driving with a disregard for the safety of others.”
Ann Deutscher, another attorney for the plaintiffs, said the boys’ families don’t blame Mundell for the tragedy. She was named as a defendant in the lawsuit because plaintiffs must sue all parties that could bear any responsibility because of how the state structured its liability laws, she explained.
During the trial, Mundell took the stand and testified about what happened on the day of the fatal incident.
In a statement released by King County spokeswoman Rochelle Ogershok on Wednesday, the county expressed sympathy for the victims’ families.
“We agree with the jury’s decision that the county was not responsible for this heartbreaking accident, and also understand the family’s grief and sorrow that led to the filing of these claims,” she said.
The families of the boys plan to appeal the verdict, their attorneys said.
Video from 2010
Loni Mundell reflects on a 2008 car accident in which her stepbrother and cousin were killed.