A man left quadriplegic after a bicycle wreck earlier this year says the trail he was using was unsafely maintained, according to a lawsuit filed in Pierce County Superior Court.
Carl Schwartz, 67, and his wife Sherry filed the suit Tuesday against King County.
The wreck happened on a section of the Green River Trail in Tukwila and involved a bollard — a short post in the middle of the path, used to keep vehicles at bay.
King County’s trails have dozens of them, attorney Christopher Davis estimated, and Schwartz’s crash happened when he hit one that allegedly was unmarked.
“The fact that they have not complied with state and federal safety standards, when they’ve been encouraging more people to use these paths on their bikes, is pretty egregious in our view,” Davis said.
“This case is unfortunately an example of what can happen, how badly somebody can be injured when a bollard is not properly marked.”
King County is investigating Schwartz’s accident, said Logan Harris, a spokesman for the county’s Department of Natural Resources and Parks.
“Mr. Schwartz suffered a terrible injury while cycling on the Green River Trail near the entrance to Cecil Moses Memorial Park,” Harris’ statement said. “He was cycling alone at the time and no one witnessed the accident so, at this point, we don’t know how it occurred.
“We do know that the accident happened on a straight stretch of trail near a single bollard in an area with no reported accident history.”
Davis said state law requires such posts be identified with pavement markings. King County drafted a plan in 2009 to do that, but it wasn’t formally adopted, he said.
The complaint, which seeks unspecified damages, gives this account of Schwartz’s accident:
He was riding his bike on the trail March 13, when it was wet and overcast.
“The lighting and the weather that day caused the single white bollard to become inconspicuous to the point where it was undetectable, even to an experienced cyclist,” the lawsuit states.
Traveling no more than 15 miles per hour, Schwartz hit the post, which cut his carbon bike in half in two places and threw Schwartz to the ground, where he landed on his head.
He wasn’t able to move, and was taken to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle after a bystander called for help. The diagnosis was a spinal cord injury, which left him quadriplegic and dependent on a ventilator.
Davis said he didn’t know whether the ride that day had been for recreation or a commute. Schwartz routinely did both, the attorney said, riding upwards of 150 miles a week.
Since the wreck, he’s moved from Seattle to Spokane County, where Davis said an adult son helps with his care.
The lawyer said he thinks the bollard remains unmarked. He added that the post doesn’t seem necessary, given there isn’t a history of trouble with vehicles on that part of the trail.
Even if there were, he said, there are safer alternatives to keep vehicles away, such as landscape barriers.
“The research now shows that these bollards are extremely dangerous to cyclists,” he said.