Appeal from Superior Court of Cowlitz County. Docket No: 91-2-00714-5. Date filed: 02/28/95. Judge signing: Hon. Randolph Furman.
Authored by David H. Armstrong. Concurring: J. Robin Hunt, J. Dean Morgan.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Armstrong
ARMSTRONG, J. -- Wick appeals a jury verdict finding the County faultless in a collision between his seven-year-old son and a car that had just crested a steep hill that lacked warning signs. First, Wick contends the trial court erroneously instructed that the County's duty was only to those exercising ordinary care for their own safety; he argues that this treats contributory negligence as a total bar to recovery, rather than as a reduction in plaintiff's recovery. Second, he asserts that because the County refused to stipulate before the jury that feasibility was not an issue, the trial court should have admitted evidence that the County put up warning signs after the accident. We affirm, holding that the jury was properly instructed on the County's duty, and that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in refusing the evidence of later repairs.
During the afternoon of March 20, 1987, Ronald D. Almer was driving east on NE 119th Street, a paved, two-lane street in Clark County. The posted speed limit was 35 m.p.h. Near the accident scene the road goes over a steep hill that limits the sight distance of drivers. There were no warning signs on the hill.
As Almer crested the hill, he saw seven-year-old Benjamin Wick on a bicycle in the east-bound lane. Almer slammed on his brakes and swerved to the left, but his left front fender hit Benjamin. Benjamin suffered severe internal injuries.
About three weeks after the accident, the County posted a sign on the hill reading, "Limited Sight Distance 20 m.p.h." Later, because of a change in federal regulations, the County changed the sign to read "Impaired Sight Distance."
Wick alleged the County was negligent for (1) failing to maintain a reasonably safe street, (2) failing to warn of limited sight distance, and (3) allowing a dangerous hill to exist. The County claimed, among other things, that the accident resulted from Benjamin's negligence and the negligence of his parents.
At trial, Wick's expert, a highway traffic engineer, testified that the posted speed limit was too high because of the limited sight distance caused by the steepness of the hill. He concluded that the road was inherently dangerous and deceptive for people exercising ordinary care, and that the County should have regraded the hill and installed warning signs.
Two experts testified for Clark County. One, a traffic safety engineer, testified that warning signs, with or without speed advisories, are not effective in reducing speed. Although not admitting that the hill was unsafe, he did concede that regrading would make it safer.
The County's second expert, a Cowlitz County road engineer, concluded that: (1) the hill was reasonably safe for drivers using it in a proper manner and exercising ordinary care for their own safety; (2) limited sight distance signs are generally ineffective; and (3) Clark County acted reasonably by not posting warning signs on the hill.
By special verdict form, the jury found that Clark County, Almer, and Jeanette Wick, Benjamin's mother, were not negligent.