September 27, 2006 in City

Insurer settles in RPS death

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The insurance company representing River Park Square garage has reached a settlement with the family of a woman who died when her Subaru fell from the structure’s fifth floor in April.

Robert Rembert, the attorney who represents the family of Jo Ellen Savage, of Pullman, confirmed the settlement Tuesday.

Details on the agreement were sparse.

“It really was a very quiet and direct agreement between those two parties that did not involve anyone else,” said Jennifer West, mall spokeswoman.

Rembert and the insurance company, Safeco, declined to provide further information.

Savage died April 8 after her car fell from the garage onto the entry ramp below. Witnesses told police she was driving slowly.

The settlement means the Cowles Co. likely will be spared another high-profile court case involving its lawsuit-plagued garage. The structure became a symbol of controversy as financial agreements between River Park Square and the city of Spokane fell apart soon after construction was completed in 1999.

The Cowles Co. also owns The Spokesman-Review.

Mall officials announced in early August that they will strengthen the barriers by attaching steel rods and plates to outside-facing walls. That action appears to have helped lead to the settlement.

“The owner’s public dedication to making improvements in the garage was a significant factor in achieving some sort of resolution,” Rembert said.

Mall officials have insisted throughout the controversy following the crash that they maintained it at a high standard. A series of reports on the garage starting in 1989, however, raised questions about the structure’s condition.

Sara Britton, a Safeco spokeswoman, said the company does not release details of settlements, to protect the privacy of customers.

“I would advise you to talk to the insured and other parties involved,” she said.

Cowles Co. Chairwoman Betsy Cowles, through an assistant, declined to comment.

“We don’t even have a copy of the agreement,” said Bill D. Symmes, an attorney who represented River Park Square when former Spokane City Councilman Stephen Eugster tried unsuccessfully to have the garage deemed a public nuisance.

Symmes said any money Safeco agreed to pay the Savage family would be Safeco’s.

Savage’s family never filed a lawsuit on the matter but had asked the city to close the garage until the walls were improved.

In 1993, engineer Richard Atwood warned River Park Square officials of problems in the walls. He recommended the garage erect cables to prevent cars from hitting barriers or that the owners conduct more extensive tests. Neither action was taken, though mall officials say they made other improvements and conducted other tests.

A report completed this summer by an engineering firm hired by the Cowles Co. showed that all but six of the garage’s 268 L-shaped barriers met required building codes. Still, because reinforcing steel was misplaced in many of the barriers during construction, the report says, the walls were not as strong as designed.

Mall officials had said they hoped improvements would be completed by the end of summer. However, the company needs approval of a permit to start construction.

The city’s building department is waiting to approve the permit until an independent analysis of the proposed plans is completed, city spokeswoman Marlene Feist said.


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