DOT Do-Over

An attorney paralyzed in a Montlake Bridge bike accident gets an $8 million settlement.

In 2007, Mickey Gendler suffered one of the worst accidents that could befall a bicyclist. He was crossing the Montlake Bridge on a Sunday ride when a tire got wedged into a gap between metal panels of the drawbridge. He flipped over the handlebars, landed on his head, and suffered a spinal-cord injury that left him a quadriplegic. An environmental lawyer, Gendler did what came naturally: He sued the state and dug into the construction problems that led to the accident. Gendler has now won an $8 million settlement in mediation, according to the parties and documents filed in Thurston County Superior Court. It's one of the top five payouts made by the state in at least seven years, according to Glenn Kuper, a spokesperson for the Office of Financial Management. (The largest recent award was made just last week, when a jury found for musician Koti Hu, who became a quadriplegic after an accident on an I-405 on-ramp. The state will pay $12 million of the $30 million award.) In an interview, Gendler said that "an identical accident" occurred in 1999, although that cyclist sustained far less serious injuries. A DOT engineer reported the accident to a state inspector, who wrote in a report that the panels must have been misaligned, according to Gendler. DOT risk management director John Milton confirms that an engineer and an inspector knew about the 1999 accident, but says they concluded that the gap was not a problem because most bicyclists would not be traveling across it. The gap lies in a left lane (headed south) of the metal grate that opens and closes to let boats pass underneath. The majority of cyclists ride on the elevated walkways that lie on either side of the bridge. But Gendler said he didn't like the walkways, which he found too narrow and obstructed by pillars. He preferred riding on the main road alongside cars, and on the day of the accident wanted to be in the left lane so that he could turn left immediately upon exiting the bridge onto a street that leads to the Arboretum. Anticipating that that might be an issue raised by the state, he brought a motion in court prior to the settlement asking the judge to rule on whether he had a right to be on the road. The judge ruled he had, according to Gendler. The state finally filled the gap in 2009. Gendler says he's not sure whether the settlement, large as it is, will cover his lifetime medical expenses. As he talks by phone from his Phinney Ridge home, an aide is helping him dress. He says he needs someone with him at all times, and attends physical therapy three times a week. He has some use of his hands, however, and can operate a computer with the help of voice-activation software. So he still takes on legal cases. He can also flip the pages of a book, last week finishing his first since the accident: Andre Agassi's autobiography Open.

 
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