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Court: Highway Accident Data Belongs To Public

John Ryan
04/13/2012

A recent public radio investigation ranked Washington state second in the nation for government transparency. According to the State Integrity Investigation, only Connecticut did a better job of providing public access to public information.

As one quadriplegic man from Seattle learned, that doesn't mean it's easy to pry information out of Washington state agencies. But Thursday, it got a little easier. KUOW's John Ryan reports.



TRANSCRIPT

Seattle attorney Mickey Gendler was bicycling across the Montlake Bridge in 2007 when his front wheel stuck in the metal grating of the bridge deck.

He flipped and landed on his helmeted head. He wound up paralyzed from the neck down.

In the years since the accident, the former bike racer has recovered some use of his limbs. He now uses a motorized wheelchair and is able to work part time.

Gendler: "A few hours a week at most. I spend most of my time working on recovery. I go to physical therapy three times a day."

Gendler gained another slow victory this week at the state Supreme Court. Gendler sued the state government for leaving a dangerous gap in the deck of the Montlake Bridge. He eventually won $8 million from the state.

He also asked the state patrol for records of any other bike accidents on the bridge. The state patrol refused his request. It said a federal law prevented it from releasing those public records unless Gendler signed away his right to use them in a lawsuit. Instead, Gendler sued for the records.

Gendler: "The trial court, the court of appeals, and now today, the Washington Supreme Court, all ruled that I was entitled to those records, which means any victim, cars, bikes, pedestrians, they can find out if there was an issue with the safety of the road."

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Rob McKenna says state attorneys are reviewing their options. She says an appeal to the US Supreme Court is unlikely, but they may try to work with the state Legislature to make state law align more with federal law.

I'm John Ryan, KUOW News.

© Copyright 2012, KUOW

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