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Lacey Hicks v. State of Washington Department of Transportation, City of Aberdeen

Lacey Hicks

Lacey Hicks before Dec. 14, 2006

Government Liability; Spinal Cord Injuries; Highway Design

SKW's government liability and auto injury attorneys, Keith Kessler and Brad Moore, represented Lacey Hicks in a case against the State of Washington and the City of Aberdeen. Simply because Lacey was at the wrong place at the wrong time, she sustained serious injuries, including spinal cord injury while driving her car one December evening in 2006.

Strong ocean winds have historically blown eastward along the Chehalis River, with the Chehalis River Bridge directly in their path.  The salt air strikes the bridge and its poles, and saltwater enters into pole anchorage that has not been properly tightened down or sealed.  A lack of maintenance allows corrosion to advance and ultimately weaken the pole supports until they are unable to withstand strong winds.

Lacey Hicks Lacey Hicks

On December 14, 2006, the Chehalis River Bridge was not safe.

Its light poles had been ignored for years, left to rust. Their structural failure in a strong wind was inevitable. Had bridge inspectors looked, the rusting anchorage and bolts were there to be seen.

Ms. Hicks Before December 14, 2006

Lacey Hicks was always an extraordinarily active young woman, gifted in sports and
skilled in waterskiing, swimming, snow skiing, snowboarding, golfing, bowling and dancing. She pitched softball through high school and into college at Grays Harbor College.  She put a tremendous amount of energy into recreational activities because they gave her great enjoyment and fulfillment.

Lacey Hicks Lacey Hicks

Owing to her natural beauty, she was encouraged to become a model, and she therefore took excellent care of her skin and her physique. Her complexion was blemish-free.

She was a very happy, active young woman who made the most of her opportunity to enjoy all aspects of a healthy life.

After The Bridge Lightpole Struck

When rescuers arrived at the bridge, Lacey was trapped inside her car, with the roof crushed down on her.  She was enmeshed in broken glass from the windshield.

Lacey Hicks

Her head had been struck, and the paramedics reported that she was confused and suffered a possible loss of consciousness.  She had lacerations to her right cheek and posterior lower neck.  They placed her in a protective cervical collar, carefully extricated her from the wreckage, strapped her to a spine board, and transported her to Grays Harbor Community Hospital.

At the hospital, an emergency physician evaluated Lacey.  A cervical spine CT scan was ordered.  A radiologist observed an unstable compression fracture involving the C7 vertebra.  Worse, there were retropulsed fragments causing mild-to-moderate spinal canal stenosis in the area of the fracture.   In addition, there was a non-displaced fracture of the left posterior aspect of the C5 lamina.  The following day, an MRI (shown below) of the cervical spine revealed an approximate 40% loss of the height of the C7 vertebral body. 

An orthopedic surgeon then evaluated Lacey’s condition.  Based on his examination, Lacey had two treatment options.  The first was for long-term cervical spinal traction.  The second was for surgical fixation, which her orthopedic surgeon had advised was her best option for returning sooner to an active life.  Lacey followed his advice and elected the latter option.  Her surgeon then proceeded with surgery and performed a C7 corpectomy, including surgical fusion of the C6 to T1 vertebrae.

Lacey Hicks

Before that tragic incident on the Chehalis Bridge, Lacey was a very happy, active young woman who made the most of her opportunity to enjoy all aspects of a healthy life.

The pure pleasures of golfing, bowling, dancing, waterskiing, snow skiing and snowboarding suddenly ended for Lacey at 7:02 p.m. on December 14, 2006.

Completely innocent, she was seriously physically injured because of the negligence of others.  As a result of that frightening event, Lacey is now distressed if she has to drive.  She can’t avoid the image of the sudden crash, and the involuntary fear that someone will crash into her.

She experiences soreness every day, with pain radiating from the back of her neck down to her mid-back.  She attempts to treat the pain with Tylenol.   Some mornings she wakes up in significant pain because she inadvertently slept wrong on her neck.

She was prescribed massage therapy to help, but her insurance doesn’t cover it. She was also prescribed physical therapy to help relieve her stiffness, pain and range of motion disability. She went through 13 PT sessions, and then was advised by her insurance company that they only cover 10 sessions. Lacey then had to pay for those additional three sessions out of her own pocket.

Before she hired spinal cord injury attorneys Keith Kessler and Brad Moore at SKW to hold the government accountable for their negligence, she was not receiving the physical therapy that she needed because there was no way that she could afford it. As they had done for many other victims of negligent bridge/road maintenance, Keith and Brad fought many hard battles against the State and City of Aberdeen.

While Keith and Brad dealt with the huge legal battles, Lacey fought her own physical battles: After only a month of trying to recover from spinal cord surgery, she pushed herself to get back to work. She found herself in pain and exhausted, and was forced to cut workdays short.  Even now, by the end of the workday, she experiences some exhaustion. 

She wears her neck brace when the pain becomes unbearable.  She has learned that pain will always be part of her life.

POST SCRIPT

After the rusted light pole hit Lacey’s car, 14 light poles were removed from the Chehalis River Bridge. As of this spring, drivers may soon expect to see more light on the bridge according to Daily World. After the efforts of SKW on behalf of Lacey Hicks, the State is finally prepared to fund a project to build a proper lighting system for the bridge.