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Is I-90 trail a park or a transportation corridor?

Former Island resident, Susan Camicia, who was paralyzed in a cycling accident on the I-90 trail in 2006 may be able to renew her effort to sue the City of Mercer Island for her injuries.

At the heart of the matter is whether or not the I-90 trail is a recreational facility or a transportation corridor.

When Camicia brought her suit, the city said that the trail was a public recreational trail and therefore was immune to responsibility regarding any injuries that might occur during its use. Cities are generally immune from damages due to injuries at parks and recreational facilities according to state law RCW 4.24.210.

Yet, in a 5 to 3 vote issued Thursday, the state Supreme Court has decided that a judge or jury must decide if the trail is a recreational facility or a lane for transportation. In short, if the trail is primarily for transportation purposes, then Camicia may have grounds to pursue the city for damages.

Camicia has been unable to walk. She fell after hitting one of the wooden bollards on the I-90 bike trail.

“I swerved to miss one of the footings on the temporary fencing and it led me right into one of the wooden bollards,” Camicia said in a video.

As a result, she flipped over the handlebars and injured her spine.

Camicia later sued both the builder of the trail, Howard S. Wright Construction & Co, and the City of Mercer Island.

In its defense, the city pointed to state law that grants legal immunity to recreational land that is open to the public free of charge.

In late 2011, the attorney representing the city, Andrew Cooley told the state Supreme Court, that the trail is a recreational facility and is maintained by the parks department not the streets department.

The Washington state Department of Transportation (WSDOT) transferred ownership of a portion of the trail to the city in 2000 with the proviso that it was to be maintained for road/street purposes only. However in 1991, the city included the route in its Comprehensive Plan for Park, Recreation, Open Space, Arts and Trails where it refers to the trails as park lands.

Camicia’s defense says that the trail was built and originally owned by the state as part of the I-90 project and is a transportation facility.

“WSDOT described it then as a key transportation corridor, not as a park. As such, the immunity for responsibility for injury does not apply,” Camicia's lawyer, John Budlong, told the Supreme Court.

The Court majority stated “Whether the city allowed the public to use the trail for purposes of outdoor recreation is a contested factual issue. So (Mercer Island) is not entitled to summary judgment in its favor.”

The court ruled that instead a judge or jury must decide whether the trail qualifies to be treated as park, which has immunity from lawsuits, or a roadway, which does not.

 

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