The Washington State Supreme Court Justices voted almost unanimously yesterday in favor of allowing a drunk driver who crashed into a power pole and permanently disfigured her passenger to sue the local power company for putting the pole too close to the road.
Jennifer Wilbur was driving with twice the legal BAC in her veins (0.14) when she crashed into a pole in Skagit County, permanently damaging passenger Nathan Loman's right arm.
She pleaded guilty to vehicular assault, and had a negligence claim filed against her by Lowman.
So far so good.
But Lowman, who knew Wilbur was drunk when he got in the car with her, also filed a claim against Puget Sound Energy and Skagit County, asserting that the pole Wilbur hit wasn't as far away from the road as it should have been.
Indeed, a Skagit County engineer confirmed the pole was only 4.47 feet from the road's edge when placement standards call for a 10-foot "clear zone."
In an 8-to-1 ruling, the justices reversed an earlier ruling by a trial court that the placement of the pole wasn't the legal cause of Lowman's disfigurement.
"Whatever the reasons for a car's departure from a roadway, as a matter of policy we reject the notion that a negligently placed utility pole cannot be the legal cause of resulting injury," Justice Debra Stephens wrote in the majority opinion.
Justice Jim Johnson, who wrote the dissent, said Washington taxpayers are being asked to pick up the tab for the criminal activities of motorists who injure themselves and others.
Though both Lowman and Wilbur can now sue PSE for "negligence," it remains unclear if Wilbur intends to do so.