clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Utah lawmakers approve $745,200 settlement for woman struck by garbage truck

Case raises question about caps on government payouts

The Capitol in Salt Lake City is pictured on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019. Silas Walker, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — State lawmakers have approved a $745,200 settlement for a woman who was struck by a garbage truck driven by a Salt Lake Community College employee in April and is in a semicomatose state.

The woman, identified in a memo to legislative leaders and Gov. Gary Herbert’s administration as Wendi Wong, will likely never recover to the point she can leave a nursing home, according to Dr. Judith L. Gooch, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist quoted in the memo by State Risk Manager Brian Nelson.

Gooch advised state officials that Wong “will remain dependent for all of her needs and will require 24-hour assistance for the rest of her life.”

Her medical related expenses exceed $530,000, according to Gooch.

“As a result of the accident, the claimant sustained the following injuries: open skull fracture, subdural hematoma, internal carotid artery dissection, temporal bone fracture, fracture of the maxillary sinus, orbital wall fracture, deep vein thrombosis, muscle spasticity, severe TBI (traumatic brain injury), cognitive dysfunction, etc.,” the memo states.

Wong, 49, was walking in a crosswalk across Redwood Road near the SLCC campus on April 24 when she was hit by the truck driven by a college employee. “The sun was in his eyes and he collided with a pedestrian in a crosswalk,” the memo states.

According to press accounts of the accident, the incident occurred about 7:20 a.m.

Although the Utah Legislature’s Legislative Management Committee gave unanimous approval to the settlement, some members spoke out about governmental immunity caps, which are established in state statute.

“The thing I question is whether it’s fair, appropriate and right to have these caps in the first place. I want us all to be sensitive moving forward,” said House Minority Leader Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City.

“Right now, we insulate the government from accountability to a remarkable degree for these kind of injuries. It’s really troubling to me.”

Senate Minority Assistant Whip Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, said she formerly practiced law in California, which has no damage caps.

“You get what the jury does. To me, that is a fair system. Of course, you have to balance things,” she said, adding, “when you look at these individuals and if it’s a loved one of yours, you would think very differently, I would think.”

House Speaker Brad Wilson noted that Wong’s legal counsel intends to petition the Utah Legislature to seek payment in excess of the governmental immunity cap of $745,200.

“We’ll see how that process proceeds. We definitely want to get this started and hope we get unanimous support for this motion,” Wilson said regarding the settlement.

Wong’s attorney, Eric Nielson, declined to comment on the case on Wednesday.