We all celebrate a victory today for cyclists. In the matter of Camicia v. Howard S. Wright Const. Co. and The City of Mercer Island, the Washington State Supreme Court found for a seriously injured cyclist, Ms. Camicia. The Court held that recreational use immunity could not be determined as a matter of law on account of the trier of fact needing to determine disputed facts. The disputed facts concern whether the trail served a recreational purpose as opposed to a transportation purpose.
The case entails the I-90 bike trial. Sound Transit had retained Howard S. Wright Construction Company as the general contractor for a project at the South Transit Mercer Island Park and Ride Facility. To prevent public access during this construction, Wright Construction installed a chain link fence around the perimeter of the site; however, some of the fence footing at the site protruded onto the bicycle trail. Along came Ms. Camicia, who veered left to avoid the fence footing. Her swerve veered her right into a wood post, which threw her from her bike. The accident rendered her paralyzed.
Ms. Camicia brought suit against the City of Mercer Island and the construction company. The King County Superior Court initially rejected the City’s argument that it should be granted recreational use immunity because Ms. Camica was on a recreational use trail. But the Superior Court later adopted the City’s argument. Ms. Camicia appealed and prevailed at the Court of Appeals. Today she has prevailed again at the Supreme Court.
I find this outcome to be gratifying on so many fronts. As someone who has and does represent the severely injured, I am, of course, gratified to see an avenue of recourse not getting tossed on account of a technicality. As a cyclist, I know how scary it is out there. Some drivers don’t understand why, for example, cyclists take to the middle of a country road when riding down hill, as opposed to hovering on the shoulder. Ms. Camicia’s accident drives home the point: one unexpected obstacle in your path and you could be in some serious trouble; when you are on the shoulder, your choices can be to hit the obstacle, crash off the road, or swerve into the path of cars passing you. Being in the middle when going downhill resolves this safety dilemma and the little patience, if any, it calls for from drivers shouldn’t pose a problem. Lastly, it wasn’t too long ago when the dirty little secret among lawyers was that for a time our State Supreme Court was an inferior bench to certain of our appellate courts. That can be said no more. We have an excellent Superior Court bench, excellent appellate courts and we certainly have an outstanding Supreme Court bench we can all be proud of. This decision is well-written, well-reasoned, and, last but not least, because it culminates in a just result, is well-done.