Washington State Department of Transportation Lawsuit


Washington State Department of Transportation Lawsuit

Mike Maxwell settles a case against the Washington State Department of Transportation for $8.5M for the death of two people.

Impaired Driver Causes Fatal Accident

Shortly before Christmas of 2021, an impaired driver crossed the centerline on a highway on Whidbey Island, colliding head-on with a vehicle containing two people who were beloved parents and grandparents, Ken and Sharon. Sharon died immediately from blunt injuries to her chest which fractured her ribs and tore a hole in the side of her heart. Ken was rushed to the emergency room in Everett with life-threatening injuries. Trauma surgeons were able to keep Ken alive for 12 days before he died a painful death from his injuries.

The blood from the impaired driver tested positive for fentanyl and methamphetamines. She pleaded guilty to two counts of vehicular homicide and was sentenced to 17 years in prison. This was a devastating loss for the impaired driver, a woman in her late 30s. Three lives, including her own, were ruined by her choice to drive under the influence of illicit substances.

How WA Dept of Transportation Failed

Mike investigated and found that minutes before the collision, the impaired driver disembarked from a Washington State Ferry. A witness watched the impaired driver drive “erratically” as she drove toward the ferry terminal in Mukilteo, Washington. After paying for her ticket, the impaired driver rear-ended another vehicle in the waiting line. Ferry employees on the dock radioed the crew of the ferry that a potentially impaired driver was on board the ferry.

After boarding, the witness parked his car on the deck of the ferry and found a member of the crew. He reported the potentially impaired driver to the crew member, and he showed the crew member a photo of the impaired driver’s license plate. He also escorted the crew member to the location of the impaired driver’s vehicle and pointed the vehicle out to the crew member.

The crew member reported the presence of a potentially intoxicated driver to his superiors. The first mate instructed the witness to call 911, even though written policy required reporting the event to the ferry’s operations center in Seattle. Operations could have called law enforcement and could have taken steps to slow the ferry to allow law enforcement time to arrive. However, the operations center was never called.

When the ferry unloaded at the dock in Whidbey Island, the impaired driver remained on board, unconscious behind the wheel. It took four members of the crew to awaken her by rapping on the windows, slapping the sides of the vehicle, and rocking the vehicle from side to side. After the impaired driver woke up, she was directed by the crew to drive off the ferry immediately. She drove for two miles, crossed the center line, and then killed Sharon and Ken.

When the ferry workers testified in this lawsuit, every one of them complained about a lack of training, perhaps because they were afraid of losing their jobs. While the Washington State Ferries are part of the Washington State highway system, the crew members did not feel that they were trained to deal with an obviously intoxicated driver. Mike argued that employees of the Washington State Ferries should be trained to recognize the signs of driver impairment from drugs or alcohol. They should be authorized to detain a potentially impaired driver on the ferry with the use of wooden blocks, a tire lock, or other device until law enforcement can arrive and take control of the investigation.


Mike was ready to try the case. The Washington State Department of Transportation asked to mediate. The mediation took place a few weeks before the trial. Rather than risk seeing Mike in trial, the State of Washington agreed to pay $8,500,000 to settle all claims.

No known impaired driver should ever be allowed to disembark from a Washington State Ferry. Mike hopes that the Washington State Department of Transportation learns from this expensive lawsuit and takes the necessary steps to make sure that this never happens again.

Read the Seattle Times article here.