Documents: King County spent millions to settle Metro lawsuits

Documents: King County spent millions to settle Metro lawsuits »Play Video
SEATTLE -- Documents show King County has paid out more than $50 million to settle lawsuits in the past three years, and the bulk of those problems came from a single agency.

The county and its taxpayers have spent millions in recent years to settle more than 50 lawsuits, and a large percentage of them involve King County Metro.

Matt Rosenberg is the editor of a watchdog website called Public Eye Northwest, and he said the records from King County's legal settlements deeply trouble him.

"All kinds of things that didn't have to happen and that shouldn't have happened," Rosenberg said.

The Problem Solvers looked through nearly 60 settlements that total more than $53 million taxpayer dollars in the last three years, and Metro is responsible for nearly of that.

"That's just ghastly, horrific stuff," Rosenberg said.

A West Seattle case was settled last year for $5 million. According to country records, a Metro bus went through an intersection, plowed into a woman and rolled over her, causing severe injuries.

She was in the hospital for a month before being moved to a nursing home.

"People's lives are permanently changed, and so often it involves a Metro bus," Rosenberg said.

In another case, a woman was hit by a Metro bus in an intersection along the waterfront. The county said she suffered a traumatic brain injury and now has nightmares and post traumatic stress disorder.

That case was settled for $4.5 million.

A woman in Tukwila was hit by a bus, causing a fractured pelvis and hip. The county settled that case for $2 million.

A Capitol Hill collision put a woman into a coma for days. Her settlement was $5 million.

"That's not chump change," Rosenberg said.

County records show Metro's settlements accounted for 70 percent of all claims last year. Rosenberg said even with all those millions of dollars, settling can save money.

"These payouts are a business transaction and a necessary evil," he said.

But Metro points out that really severe cases with high settlements, are a very small percentage of its accidents and can be misleading.

"It's hard to understand trends from settlements because you're settling something that might have been an incident 2,3,4, 5 years ago," said Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond.

Metro says what they pay the most attention to is safety, and the trend they watch most closely is the accident trend, which Metro says has gone done steadily by 38 percent over the past 20 years.

"We might have a little up and down but they're steadily going down because we focus on this," Desmond said.

Another trend Metro points to: the number of claims filed for those really severe accidents. King County says those are also down, with no claims over half a million dollars filed in the past two years.

Many of the Metro cases are less serious with awards in the $100,000 to $200,000 range. But as Rosenberg points out, it all adds up.

"All kinds of things that didn't have to happen and that shouldn't have happened," he said.

Both Metro and Rosenberg both stress that the vast majority of rides and drivers are completely safe on a system that serves 400,000 riders every day.