BELLINGHAM - A state appeals court on Monday, Oct. 15, upheld a lower court's ruling and denied a claim of negligence against the city in the death of a bicyclist who was struck by a train in Boulevard Park.
In its five-page opinion, the Court of Appeals, Division I, said Whatcom County Superior Court Judge Charles Snyder was right to dismiss the case on Aug. 26, 2011, before it went to trial. Snyder ruled, and the appeals court agreed, that the city was immune from liability in the death of Maia Haykin of Bellingham.
Under state law, landowners cannot be held liable for unintentional injuries on their land if they make it available for public recreation at no cost.
"This is exactly the situation here," the Appeals Court opinion said.
The lawsuit filed in Superior Court was against the city and track owner BNSF Railway, Inc. The appeal named only the city as a defendant.
Haykin, 49, was bicycling southbound on the South Bay Trail shortly before 8 p.m. on May 20, 2008, when she was struck and killed by a Seattle-bound Amtrak train.
According to witness accounts included in court documents, Haykin was singing as she rode and made no apparent attempt to slow down before crossing the train's path. A state toxicology report filed with the court showed Haykin was under the influence of marijuana. She also had been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, according to a sworn statement by her husband, Richard Haykin.
In its claim against the city, the estate of Maia Haykin said the pedestrian railroad crossing at the north end of Boulevard Park was unsafe. The courts' rulings didn't address the safety of the crossing; they only said the city was immune to the claim.
Steve Chance, attorney for the Haykin estate, was not available for comment Wednesday.
The city argued in court filings that the crossing is safe. Warning signs and fences were installed at the crossing in 2001, after the city and BNSF reached an agreement to allow pedestrians to cross there. The agreement called for gates and signals at the crossing, a plan that was never carried out. The Haykin estate's wrongful death complaint said the city's failure to install "bells and lights" justified its claim.
Leslie Bryson, the Parks and Recreation Department's design development manager, said in a court filing that the estimated cost of a signal-and-gate crossing was $352,000. Bryson was interim parks director when the case was in Superior Court.