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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Appellate judges uphold $7.5 million jury award against Spokane County

The Spokane County Courthouse. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
The Spokane County Courthouse. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Appellate judges have upheld a $7.5 million jury award against Spokane County in a case involving a woman who was left paralyzed from the chest down in a motorcycle crash that occurred in 2011.

Attorneys representing Spokane County appealed that jury’s award, but three judges from the Division III Court of Appeals on Thursday affirmed the earlier verdict, which was reached in 2017.

The jury had awarded $12.5 million to Madelynn M. Tapken but found that Spokane County was only 60% at fault for the condition of the roadway where the collision occurred. As a result, Tapken’s award was $7.5 million.

“In this second appeal, Spokane County assigns errors to trial court rulings,” Judge George Fearing wrote for the appeals court. “We affirm all rulings except a ruling allowing Conrad Malinak to recover medical expenses.”

Tapken’s attorney, Roger Felice, praised the latest decision in a case that has stretched on for years.

“It’s been a long haul. We tried the case twice,” Felice said. “But the family is pleased and she’s a remarkable young lady. It’s a tragedy, but under the circumstances, they are pleased” with the new ruling.

Spokane County Risk Manager Steve Bartel was not available Friday to say whether the county will attempt to appeal the latest ruling to the state Supreme Court.

The case began on Sept. 28, 2011, when Tapken, who was 20 at the time, got on a motorcycle with Conrad Malinak. They drove south of Spokane and crashed at a fork in the road known as the “Waverly Y” on Prairie View Road, which has a speed limit of 45 mph.

During the trial, county employees testified that the maximum safe speed for the curve at the intersection was 20 mph, but the county had no warning signs to this effect. In addition, a large hawthorn bush blocked Malinak’s view of the sharpness of the curve to the right, his attorney said.

The lawsuit alleged the intersection had been the scene of about two dozen single-car crashes prior to 2011, but Spokane County Superior Court Judge Timothy Fennessy only allowed three of those collisions to be discussed during the three-week trial.

Bartel acknowledged that the county, since the motorcycle crash, had put up more warning signs and trimmed back the hawthorn bush. But, he said “that, in itself, had nothing to do with the accident.”

In addition to upholding the $7.5 million for Tapken, the appellate judges sent Malinak’s case back to a judge for another trial on his claim for general damages.

Attorney Lawrence Garvin, who assisted attorney David Michaud in arguing the case on behalf of Malinak, had no comment when reached Friday.

Felice said he expects the county to try to appeal Tapken’s $7.5 million jury award to the Washington Supreme Court.

“I’m confident enough that nothing is going to change from the perspective of the court,” Felice said. “It would be best if they would allow this to move forward by ending it.”

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