A Rochester motorcyclist was awarded an $18.5 million settlement in Lewis County Superior Court Wednesday in a lawsuit filed after he was critically injured in an April 2015 crash in a construction zone on Interstate 5 in Centralia.
The settlement is likely the largest settlement of its kind from the Washington State Department of Transportation in Lewis County’s history, said attorney Kirk Bernard, of Bernard Law Group, PLLC in Seattle, representing Scott Bliss.
“It’s an extraordinary amount of money,” said Superior Court Judge James Lawler Wednesday, before he approved the settlement. “Of course, there were extraordinary injuries and that makes sense.”
The lawsuit, filed in June 2015, also named WSDOT’s contractor, Scarsella Bros. Inc, and the dump truck driver, Wesley Snelson.
Bernard spoke about what he characterized as the “hotly disputed case” after Lawler approved the settlement, saying Bliss was grateful for all of the support he’s received since his injury, and is now hoping to move on with his life. He has been home for about a month, after more than a year spent in hospitals and other medical facilities, Bernard said.
Bliss, in a motorized wheelchair, attended the hearing Wednesday but did not speak.
“He’s appreciative of all the community support he’s gotten,” Bernard said.
At about 5:20 a.m. April 17, 2015, Bliss, 46, was riding his motorcycle on the Interstate 5 onramp off Harrison Avenue in Centralia where crews were doing construction for the I-5 Mellen Street to Blakeslee Junction project.
Bliss’s motorcycle collided with a dump truck driven by Wesley Snelson, an employee of Scarsella Bros. Inc., the contractor on the project, as it made an illegal u-turn, blocking the ramp, according to the lawsuit.
The truck should have used a gravel access road to turn around, but was allowed to make a u-turn in the on ramp in the dark without a flagger to alert oncoming traffic, according to the lawsuit.
Bliss received critical injuries, including brain damage. and spent much of the next year in and out of hospitals and rehabilitation facilities.
Bliss’s partner and legal guardian, Cheryl Aton, filed the multi-million dollar lawsuits against the Washington State Department of Transportation, Scarsella Bros. Inc and Snelson in June. The cases were later consolidated into a single suit.
The case was previously scheduled to go to trial in October. Bliss and Aton were originally asking for a jury to award $30 million in economic damages along with an undetermined amount of general damages.
However, attorneys for Bliss and Aton concluded after meeting with a number of focus groups that a jury in Lewis County would likely hold Bliss at least partially responsible for the crash, said attorney Viivi Vanderslice, representing Bliss along with Bernard.
Given that information, the parties reached a settlement.
“There is sufficient money to meet all of Scott’s medical needs,” Vanderslice said.
The settlement amount will be in the form of an annuity and a trust to cover Bliss’s daily medical care and other needs for the remainder of his life.
The settlement also covers Bliss’ attorneys’ fees.
“This, I’ll tell you, was amazing you were able to get it resolved this quickly for this type of case,” Lawler said.