A Clallam County jury decided on Oct. 21 that Clallam Transit System was not at fault when a Sequim woman — who asked for nearly $1 million in damages — tripped over an empty tree box at the Sequim Transit Center in 2015.
Virginia Moon of Sequim filed a claim with Clallam Transit System in 2017 for $920,352.41 and when the transit system refused to settle out of court, she and her husband Roger Moon sued.
“I’m relieved with the jury’s decision,” Clallam Transit General Manager Kevin Gallacci said.
“It’s unfortunate that an accident happened where someone was injured at one of our transit centers. We take public safety very seriously at Clallam Transit and make sure all of our facilities are safe.”
The jury reached its decision that neither Clallam Transit System nor Jefferson Transit Authority was responsible after deliberating for less than an hour.
“I believe greatly in the jury system,” said attorney Lane Wolfley, who represented the Moons. “Whatever they decide after we put on our best case, we support them in that role. I think the jury fairly considered us and they returned a fair verdict.”
Virginia Moon, 70, works at Jefferson Healthcare in Port Townsend and has frequently traveled from the Sequim Transit Center to Port Townsend to get to work.
The accident happened Dec. 31, 2015, when she was returning from work in Port Townsend on a Jefferson Transit Authority Bus.
Court records said that after she got off the bus and while she was attempting to walk around a group of about a dozen people, she did not see the raised 4-foot-by-4-foot tree box, which according to testimony had been empty for eight years.
She tripped and fell, suffering lacerations to her face, sprained wrists and a shattered elbow, which required three surgeries and the removal of a section of bone. She still feels pain today from the injury and has limited mobility, her attorney Joseph Wolfley said during closing arguments on Oct. 21; the Moons declined to comment after court.
Court records said Virginia Moon’s medical costs were more than $120,000 and that other damages she suffered could be valued at $800,000.
As a result of her injury, Virginia Moon can no longer knit, bowl, kayak or use hiking poles while hiking, court records said.
“There is no evidence that she is suffering any less than has been described to you,” Joseph Wolfley told the jury.
As she recovered, she required extensive care from her husband Roger Moon, who had to help her get dressed, groom her, do nearly all of the household chores and other extra work.
Wolfley told the jury that had Clallam Transit System replaced the tree in a timely matter, or had it never removed a cone that had been placed in the empty tree planter, Virginia Moon would never have been injured.
“Clallam Transit and nobody else chose to leave the planter empty for eight years,” Joseph Wolfley said. “After cutting down the tree it put in a red safety cone. The safety cone was to protect pedestrians because Clallam Transit saw the possibility that someone could be injured there, but then they took it out.”
During the trial experts discussed building codes and laws that would apply to the tree box, but Clallam Transit System attorney Michael Sanders urged the jury to use “common sense” when determining who is at fault.
He said that between 2008 and 2016 nobody else “managed to trip and fall” on the planter box, including Virginia Moon who had visited the Sequim Transit Center hundreds of times.
“For someone that walked there between 500 and 1,000 times to blame someone else for (her) not remembering (about the tree box), that seems out of place,” Sanders said.
Sanders told the jury that Clallam Transit System isn’t negligent just because someone was hurt, adding that it’s always possible to find ways to improve safety after there is an injury.
“If we encase the entirety of the Sequim Transit Center in bubble wrap, it might be safer,” Sanders said, also suggesting a bouncy castle would improve safety.