Ten Bicyclists Injured on the Burke-Gilman Trail's “Missing Link" File Claims Against the City of Seattle

Firm News Personal Injury & Wrongful Death
Aug 03, 2023

SEATTLE – Ten people injured in bicycle crashes on the "Missing Link" of the Burke-Gilman Trail recently filed claims against the City of Seattle for its failure to make the existing roadway reasonably safe for ordinary travel, according to attorneys representing the individuals. The ten riders suffered varying degrees of injury ranging from contusions to broken bones to traumatic brain injury.

Washington Bike Law (WBL) and Schroeter Goldmark & Bender (SGB) are Seattle law firms cooperatively representing the bicyclists. “The aim of the claim notices filed today is not simply to achieve compensation for our clients’ injuries, but to prompt action by the City to prevent more people from being seriously injured by this known danger,” said SGB attorney Adam Berger.

The Missing Link is a 1.4-mile stretch in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood where the Burke-Gilman Trail abruptly ends, sending bicyclists onto streets that are still not reasonably safe for travel by bicycle. The ten bicyclists were all injured where many others have crashed before them: the Missing Link’s “Crash Zone,” a dangerous railroad crossing under the Ballard Bridge.

WBL’s Bob Anderton has represented multiple bicyclists injured in this same Crash Zone dating as far back as 2001. During the pendency of the 2001 case, the City refused to resolve these claims out of court and in 2004 Anderton obtained a verdict against the City. “Sadly, two decades later, people are still regularly crashing on the same railroad tracks and, despite many plans and compromises to complete the Burke-Gilman Trail and mitigate this known danger, the Missing Link remains dangerous, and the Burke-Gilman Trail remains incomplete,” Anderton said.

Because the area was still not reasonably safe for ordinary travel, in 2021 WBL again began representing some of the many people who continued to crash on these tracks. After filing a lawsuit and litigating in both state and federal courts, WBL, joined by SGB in 2022, obtained monetary settlements for all of their clients who were injured on the Missing Link.

In addition to compensation for their individual clients, WBL and SGB negotiated a separate settlement agreement, with the clients’ permission, to benefit the entire community.

Under that settlement, the City of Seattle agreed to take specific actions on the Missing Link by certain dates. WBL and SGB negotiated this agreement with the hope that the area would finally become reasonably safe for ordinary travel by bicycle.

Kathleen Nolan, a retired nurse, was one of the WBL and SGB clients who authorized the agreement with the City of Seattle. Ms. Nolan fractured her femur when she crashed on the Missing Link in 2020.

Ms. Nolan’s husband, Doug Kelbaugh, a 77-year-old celebrated architect who chaired the Department of Architecture at the University of Washington and pioneered a national passive solar energy movement, was one of the people in the ten recent claims.

On July 30, 2022, Mr. Kelbaugh was riding west on the Burke-Gilman Trail and encountered the Missing Link. As he followed the City’s marked bicycle lane through the Crash Zone and attempted to cross the railroad tracks, he crashed. Despite wearing a helmet, Mr. Kelbaugh suffered a traumatic brain injury and required emergency surgery at Harborview Medical Center to relieve bleeding in his brain.

Although the City completed the first phase of work under the settlement, the Crash Zone continues to be unsafe. 

The second phase of the agreement will provide riders with a single larger area in which to approach the Crash Zone from both directions and will add fencing to keep people on the path and rocks off the path. 

If the second phase is not completed by December 31, 2023, WBL and SGB clients can file another lawsuit to force the City to take the promised actions.

“In light of the continuing dangers, and on behalf of the community and everyone who has been injured as a result of the Missing Link, we urge the City to act sooner rather than later,” Anderton said.

“We’ve been waiting decades for the Burke-Gilman Trail to provide a safe route through Ballard. We can’t wait any longer. There have been far too many crashes. The City needs to make its streets in the Missing Link safer now,” Ms. Nolan added.