by: Essex Porter Updated:
MERCER ISLAND, Wash. - A badly injured bicyclist is testing whether the City of Mercer Island is immune from lawsuits involving the I-90 bike trail.
In 2006, Susan Camicia was severely injured and her legs paralyzed when she had an accident while riding on the Mercer Island 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 for Outdoors for all, a group that helps the disabled enjoy the outdoors.
“I looked up and before I could do anything I hit the pole and I flipped over my handlebars and I broke my neck,” she said.
Camicia sued the builder of the trail and the City of Mercer Island. But the city responded that state law grants legal immunity to recreational land that is open to the public free of charge.
“It was a path maintained by the parks department and not the street department,” lawyer Andrew Cooley told the state Supreme Court when the case was heard in November of 2011.
However, the trail was built and originally owned by the state as part of the I-90 project. The Washington Department of Transportation described it then as a key transportation corridor, not as a park.
"The legislature does not mean for the rec immunity statute to cover public transportation routes,” Camicia lawyer, John Budlong, told the Supreme Court.
A majority of the justices decided that “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.