A Seattle jury returned a $38 million verdict against Standard Parking and one of its valet drivers for hitting and permanently injuring a commuter bicyclist. When the collision occurred, the driver was using an illegal shortcut to retrieve cars Standard Parking parked off-premise to maximize revenues.
According to the complaint filed in King County Superior Court, Standard Parking knew that its drivers were shuffling cars between downtown garages, regularly taking the shortcut despite complaints about the route, but turned a blind eye to the practice until it was too late.
The plaintiff, Thyce Colyn, was an avid cyclist who had logged over 200,000 miles on his bike. As he rode home from work along 8thAvenue by the Convention Center in October 2012, he was hit by Taylor Warn, the valet driver, when Warn cut across both one-way lanes without yielding.
Colyn was hospitalized with a shattered hip, traumatic brain injury and additional injuries to his head, back, shoulder, ribs, pelvis and abdomen. He has survived three surgeries and expects to undergo five more. Even after years of rehabilitation and surgery, Colyn endures sharp, chronic pain and can only walk short distances with arm-crutches.
"Standard Parking didn't just ignore that its drivers were violating city rules, but turned a blind eye to the dangerous shortcut even after complaints," said David Beninger of Luvera Law firm, the attorney representing Colyn. "When Standard Parking or any business puts its own profits above the public safety, we are all at risk."
The incident was evidence of a deeper institutional negligence at Standard Parking. According to court documents, in order to maximize revenues, Standard Parking diverted valet vehicles for Grand Hyatt Hotel customers to the Olive8 garage, a third of a mile away. Under pressure to return vehicles to waiting owners as quick as possible, valets started avoiding city streets and lights, instead opting to cross 8th Avenue across two sidewalks and two and half lanes of traffic into a private parking lot opposite the Olive8 garage, before turning into an adjacent alley.
The route required multiple maneuvers that were illegal and placed pedestrians, cyclists and drivers in jeopardy. According to Seattle city laws, drivers must turn into the nearest lane and stay in that lane, signaling for 100 feet before they may change lanes again. In addition, the valet driver was distracted, failing to see or yield to Colyn, who held the right of way.
Even after Colyn was hit, Standard Parking still allowed its valets to use the shortcut route and has not faced any regulatory sanction as a result of this collision. Warn was subject to a $191 fine.
"We are thankful for the jury's thoughtful decision today – without it, this company would have gotten away with a simple traffic ticket and nothing more," said Amy Colyn, Thyce's wife. "We put our faith in the jury in hopes of protecting other bicyclists and to encourage all companies to obey the rules and use safe practices."
"Thyce paid the initial price, but the jury's verdict puts the financial burden where it belongs," Beninger said.