Attorney: $11M settlement over crosswalk injury shows city is flouting law

WAIPIO (HawaiiNewsNow) - An $11.4 million settlement with an injured pedestrian indicates the city's crosswalk policies are breaking the law — and endangering pedestrians.

On a spring evening in April 2015, a 38-year-old man stepped into a crosswalk at the corner of Waipio Uka and Lelepua Streets in Waipio. There were no vehicles in sight when he stepped off the curb heading mauka.

He had just crossed three of the four lanes — when his life changed forever.

"He was hit by the front of the car and was paralyzed immediately," said Attorney Woodruff "Woody" Soldner. "The first thing that the driver said was something to the effect of — where did he come from, I didn't see him."

Soldner says that crosswalk is an example of how the city has been ignoring legal requirements to improve pedestrian safety, going back to the 2006 vote to amend the Honolulu City Charter to require a more "pedestrian and bicycle-friendly city."

Soldner says the charter policy was reinforced by the state Legislature, in 2009, and Honolulu council, in 2012, which mandated use of "complete streets" principles whenever a road is repaved or otherwise improved.

But Soldner says that did not happen when Waipio Uka Street was repaved in 2014, despite promises that challenges facing pedestrians would be addressed when the road was remarked.

"The law requires they do a complete streets checklist...which has a number of things that have to be considered to determine whether the crosswalk is safe," Soldner said. "They just slapped a crosswalk back down on the roadway exactly as it had been before."

Soldner says his client was rendered quadriplegic by the accident and will need care for life. The attorney asked Hawaii News Now to protect the man's privacy because he still struggles with emotional issues from the accident and his paralysis.

Solder points out that the city did not attempt to blame the driver in the lawsuit, whom he also calls a victim.

"This is not a driver that has a long history of bad driving, speeding, or cell phone use, or any of those things. She was a 67-year-old woman her way to the shopping center," the Soldner said.

Soldner settled the case with the city for $11.4 million. Of that, $1.9 million will come from the city treasury and the rest from the city's insurance company.

But despite the substantial payout, due to the city's decision to accept responsibility for the accident, the Waipio Uka crosswalk remains unchanged.

"The city deserves credit for stepping up and taking responsibility for what happened to the pedestrian," Soldner said. "They definitely deserve credit for that, but the next question is why hasn't the crosswalk been fixed?"

Those who live nearby, like Nicole Miyahara -- who jogs in the area regularly -- say brighter lights would help.

"A lot of people don't really stop here. Kind of just drive by the pedestrians and don't let them cross too much," Miyahara said.

Miyahara said not long after the crash, officers were ticketing drivers for not stopping for pedestrians, but that has since stopped.

Subrina Samorano and her father Steve walk their dogs through the crosswalk every night.

Samorano suggested more signage.

"A lot of people speed on this road, so when we cross the road we're scared that cars might hit us because everyone is going really fast," said Samorano.

Soldner said flashing lights are only about $3,000 each.

No word if the city plans to install flashing lights, Hawaii News Now is still awaiting a response to questions from last week.

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