The Port of Seattle is expected pay $2 million to an Iowa man whose three-wheeled mobility scooter toppled inside an airport shuttle bus, causing significant injuries.
The incident serves as a reminder for public transit, private and volunteer drivers to carefully secure the mobility devices that thousands of travelers use.
“Provide training to all public transportation, whether that’s cars, limos, taxis, Uber, whatever — all of them should have mandatory training concerning this issue,” said Eric Scheir, co-chair of the Seattle Commission for People with disAbilities.
On Aug. 6, 2018, a port-owned shuttle bus was carrying passengers from the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport terminal to the off-site rental-car building when the driver made a right turn near Cargo Road. Onboard video showed the rider and scooter fall to the floor, before the driver stopped to assist, says a briefing memo to port commissioners.
The injured passenger, William Britven of Mason City, Iowa, and his wife Mary Lou sued the port. The driver had instructed Britven to ride on the unsecured three-wheeler, which fell on him, the complaint in King County Superior Court says.
Lawyers for the port are asking port commissioners to authorize a settlement agreement at a meeting Tuesday. The port would pay $1 million and its insurer the other $1 million, the briefing memo says. The port is not admitting wrongdoing or liability, the memo says.
“This was a very unfortunate accident and a rare one,” airport spokesman Perry Cooper said Friday. The driver “did not do what he was trained to do,” Cooper said.
Britven, who is in his 80s, suffered a spinal fracture, said attorney Robert Gallatly, who declined further comment until after the commission vote. Mary Lou Britven, reached by phone Friday, said her husband “isn’t doing well” and referred questions to the attorney.
Since the mishap, 29 shuttle buses were equipped with additional tie-downs that are more compatible with three-wheel scooters, and drivers received additional training, Cooper said.
Three-wheelers are less stable than wheelchairs and four-wheel electric scooters, so the straps must be flared out farther, says a safety newsletter that Cooper cited Friday.
The Port in 2017 declared a goal to provide “the most accessible airport in America.” Changes include pathfinders who guide people through the airport, more curb cuts and auditory-assist devices.
However, Scheir wrote last year “things have actually regressed” for vehicular options, mainly wheelchair-accessible taxis (WAT). He said Friday his group still hears multiple complaints that for-hire drivers don’t secure wheelchairs.
“As far as I am aware, nobody from the Port of Seattle has gotten in contact with us related to this issue,” he said.
Cooper said all WAT drivers at the airport completed Americans With Disabilities Act training and are county licensed.
“We have these services available and their promotion has been increased,” Cooper said.
Scheir praised King County Metro Transit for training bus operators to assist deaf and blind riders. Sea-Tac ought to provide more wheelchair-accessible taxis (WAT) with specially-trained drivers, he said.
Cindi Laws, a disability-rights advocate and lobbyist a local WAT association, said port commissioners have focused more on accessibility lately and increased to 23 the number of assigned WAT vans operated by multiple companies. But she said that’s too few, as the need is growing.
Laws called on the port to add a courtesy service using free, direct rides with the specialized WAT drivers, from curbside to the rental-car facility, as an alternative to bus travel.
Metro bus drivers routinely get out of their seats to secure wheelchairs, and there haven’t been any reported problems recently, said Kenneth Price, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587. “We will use this [incident] to remind Metro of the importance of retrainings,” he said Saturday by e-mail.