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County to settle crash claim

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Salt Lake County has agreed to pay more than $300,000 to settle a case involving an accident that occurred 12 years ago.

Richard S. Hart sued the county over alleged design flaws that he blamed for an automobile accident that left him with debilitating internal and leg injuries.The accident occurred in December 1986 as Hart was driving north on Wasatch Boulevard at 5800 South, a spot where the road hugs the base of Mount Olympus.

Hart said he saw an oncoming vehicle careen into the Volkswagen van he was driving behind on a Salt Lake County thoroughfare. He testified that he pulled his Toyota Landcruiser off Wasatch Boulevard, a county-owned road, but the shoulder offered little room between the oncoming vehicle and the mountainside.

So he veered back onto the road, where his Landcruiser crashed head-on into a speeding Ford Bronco driven by Robert Eugene Tweedy, who was drunk and driving without a license, according to court records.

After a decade of litigation, a jury verdict and two appellate defeats, the county agreed to settle the case last month.

"We're the deep pocket," County Attorney Doug Short said. "Governmental entities are becoming no-fault insurance. The driver (at fault) doesn't have insurance, so we sue the government, claiming it was negligent."

Third District Judge James Sawaya had dismissed the case against Salt Lake County after concluding that Tweedy was completely at fault. But the Utah Court of Appeals reversed Sawaya, and a four-day trial ended unfavorably for the county in September 1994.

In the meantime, Hart settled with Tweedy.

At the end of the 1994 trial, the jury found Tweedy 49 percent responsible for the crash and the county 51 percent. Hart was awarded $1.3 million.

The county's $680,000 share was cut to $250,000 under a state law that caps governmental entities' financial liability in personal-injury cases, according to a post-trial ruling by Judge Tyrone Medley.