A jury verdict against Salt Lake County over the design of Wasatch Boulevard marks the second time the road has cost the county cash.
A 3rd District Court jury returned a $1.3 million verdict against the county and drunken driver Robert Tweedy for the Dec. 24, 1987, collision between Tweedy and Richard Hart.The accident, on Wasatch Boulevard near 5800 South, left Hart with a crushed ankle, two broken legs, a dislocated knee, two dislocated shoulders and a lacerated liver.
Today, Hart can stand and walk only short distances on level ground. He can no longer run, ski, climb, wind surf or do the dozen daily things the athlete once did.
"He has to hobble over uneven surfaces. Because of the injury to his ankle and knee, his balance is very poor," said Evan Schmutz, Hart's attorney.
Hart won't collect most of his $1.3 million, but he considered the verdict "a moral victory," Schmutz said. The jury concluded Friday that Tweedy was 51 percent responsible for the accident and the county bore 49 percent of the blame.
"We're disappointed that the jury found we were 49 percent liable," said Salt Lake County Attorney Dave Yocom. "Obviously, the drunk driver caused the accident, not the fact that the driver couldn't escape the car. But that's what we have juries for is to decide those things."
Tweedy's blood-alcohol level was 0.1 and his driver's license had been suspended at the time of the accident, according to the complaint. Tweedy's insurance company has already paid Hart $20,000 and won't pay any more, despite the verdict, Schmutz said.
But the county may have to pay $250,000 - the state's constitutional cap on a government's liability. The jury awarded Hart $80,000 for past special damages, $250,000 for future special damages and $1 million in general damages.
In 1988, the county and the state paid a Kaysville man, Stephen Randle, and his children. Randle's wife, Rosan, was killed March 13, 1984, in a collision on Wasatch Boulevard near 4800 South.
The county paid Randle $15,000, said Yocom. The state's share of the settlement was confidential, Randle said.
Like Hart, Randle sued the county over the design of the road. Rosan Randle was killed in a poorly designed intersection built at the temporary merger of Wasatch Boulevard and I-215. The temporary intersection remained there for several years. The design made it difficult for some drivers to see other traffic, Randle said.
Hart won his suit because his attorneys and experts convinced jurors that the county should have realigned the road to leave a safe shoulder on the east side, Schmutz said. The boulevard has a 26-foot shoulder on the west side and almost no shoulder on the east side, he said.
The poor design leaves northbound drivers with no escape lane if an emergency occurs, such as when Tweedy left the southbound lane and drove into oncoming traffic, Hart's experts testified.
A second issue was the county's alleged failure to redesign the road to accommodate the heavy traffic of recent years. The state built the road in 1949 and turned it over to the county in 1950, Schmutz said. The road should have been improved when it became a main artery to the southeast end of the valley, the attorney said.
Hart, 38, lives in Hawaii with his wife and two children. He designs surf boards.
Randle also sued the driver of the other vehicle in his wife's fatal accident. A lower court ruled in favor of the driver, but the Utah Supreme Court reversed the ruling and sent the case back for trial.
Hart may appeal the constitutionality of the state's $250,000 cap, Schmutz said. The county hasn't decided whether to appeal the jury verdict, Yocom said.