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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Transit Authority settles accident claim for $1.5 million

A woman who was severely injured when her husband rear-ended a Spokane Transit Authority bus in 2011 has won a $1.5 million settlement from the transit agency.

Danielle Laughner was a passenger in an SUV driven by her husband of one day, Brian R. Laughner, when their vehicle ran into the back of an STA bus.

The bus was stopped in the right-hand lane of U.S. Highway 2 at Flint Road, near Airway Heights. The bus driver, Daniel Garcia, had stopped the westbound bus in the lane rather than pulling onto a 9-foot-wide shoulder next to the bus stop there. He told investigators he did so to avoid having to merge back into traffic on U.S. 2, and that he had activated his flashers.

The accident occurred about 2:30 p.m. on March 4, 2011.

Attorney Douglas Spruance, representing Danielle Laughner, argued the bus should have pulled to the side of the road rather than create a traffic hazard on a four-lane highway where the speed limit was 55 mph.

During the course of investigating the case, Spruance said he and fellow attorney Mark J. King IV learned that STA’s driver policy No. 5.7 explicitly calls for drivers to move out of the roadway when possible.

According to Spruance, STA’s lawyers argued pulling over was at the driver’s discretion and that Brian Laughner had a legal obligation to avoid a rear-end accident under what is known as the “following car doctrine.”

Susan Meyer, the transit agency’s CEO, said the claim was turned over to the Washington State Transit Insurance Pool, which decided to settle the case.

According to the settlement agreement, “It is agreed that the payment is not any admission of liability” and it is viewed as a compromise among the parties, Meyer said.

Brian Laughner was also found responsible in the accident, and his insurance paid $25,000 in the settlement.

Laughner told investigators that his view of the bus was initially blocked by a delivery van in front of him.

The van changed lanes, and he couldn’t stop in time to avoid hitting the bus, he said. He testified he was traveling about 50 mph just before the accident, Spruance said.

Spruance said that during depositions he questioned 10 other STA drivers, and eight of them testified under oath that they would have pulled the bus onto the shoulder there to service the bus stop.

Spruance said he also discovered state transportation officials had previously expressed concern about safety in that area and had talked about getting funds to create a wider bus stop.

He said the stop only has about 15 passengers a day.

The impact of the collision pushed the bus 10 feet forward.

The Laughners’ SUV struck the rear left side of the bus on the front right portion of the SUV.

“The body of the SUV was completely crushed onto Mrs. Laughner’s body, trapping her in the vehicle for over an hour,” Spruance said in a news release.

Witnesses who stopped to help tried pulling vehicle pieces away from the woman’s body, Spruance said.

Danielle Laughner’s pelvis was fractured in three places, she had compound fractures in her hand and wrist, a broken and dislocated elbow, a partial tear of her aortic arch, facial and other head lacerations, a brain injury, and cuts and bruises, according to Spruance.

In addition, a piece of metal speared her leg and was not discovered until EMTs extracted her.

Crews had to cut the top off the SUV to free her.

Spruance said she is still recovering from the injuries.