YAKIMA, Wash. — The City of Yakima’s insurance company is paying out a $3 million settlement in a lawsuit claiming poor road design and the city’s lack of action to correct it led to a crash that permanently injured a Yakima man.
In the fall of 2015, Mario Garcia, Jr. was struck by another driver while trying to cross Fruitvale Boulevard where it intersects with 34th Avenue. He was 21 years old at the time, with a 1-year-old daughter.
Bryan Smith, the attorney with Tamaki Law who represented the Garcia family in a lawsuit against the city, said anyone crossing Fruitvale from the north or south has a wide stretch of busy road to cut across.
Smith said the road used to be part of Highway 12, but it now a 35 to 40 mile per hour roadway that’s too wide to drive across safely without the use of a traffic signal of some kind.
When the other driver rammed into Garcia’s vehicle, he was ejected and suffered permanent injuries. Smith said those include a brain injury and multiple orthopedic injuries which have left him unable to speak, eat or care for himself.
Smith said that means Garcia requires 24/7 care in a nursing home and cannot care for his now 8-year-old daughter.
“This child will never get to experience having a father that can play ball with her, that can be there at her wedding to walk her down the aisle,” Smith said.
It was the 24th crash at that intersection in eight years. According to the lawsuit, city officials were aware of the dangers, but did nothing about it.
Smith said at one point, a city engineer testified that, depending on the level of traffic at the time, having a 70-foot-wide road with a speed limit of 40 miles per hour can make it difficult for drivers to cross without coming into conflict with another vehicle.
“I mean, I don’t know anybody that’s, you know, familiar with the city — with that area of the City of Yakima that would ever try to do that during busy time of the day,” the engineer reportedly said.
The city engineer also reportedly ended that sentence with, “I never do.”
“If the city officials are not crossing this intersection because they think it’s too dangerous, why should the public have to do that on a daily basis?” Smith said.
KAPP-KVEW reached out to City of Yakima spokesperson Randy Beehler to ask about this case. He provided the following statement on behalf of the city, saying:
“The only comment the City will make regarding the settlement is that the City’s insurance company and the insurance company’s law firm determined the best course of action in the case was to settle. The settlement amount will be paid by the insurance company, not the City. The insurance company determined that, due to the joint and several liability statute in Washington State, it was best not to go to trial.”
KAPP-KVEW followed up with Beehler to ask whether the city had made any changes to the intersection since Garcia was injured.
“It’s been seven years since the accident and it still hasn’t been fixed, that I’m aware of,” Smith said. “So I’m careful at that intersection. I tell everyone I know to be careful there, my family included.”
Beehler said there are long-term plans in the works to put two roundabouts on 34th Avenue, one where the road intersects with Fruitvale Boulevard and another where it intersects with River Road.
However, the plans aren’t scheduled to be completed until 2023 and the building phase likely won’t be until 2024.
“I know that there’s bureaucracy within all governments and budgetary issues that make it difficult to move quickly,” Smith said. “But we’re, you know, we’re just hoping that they’re able to do it quickly enough so that it doesn’t happen to other families.”
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