The city of Seattle and its insurers have paid a record $65.75 million to the family of a lawyer who suffered a severe brain injury when a Seattle Fire Department ambulance collided with her car in 2016.
The settlement of accident victim Brooke Taylor's claim represents "the largest personal injury settlement in the city's history," according to a spokeswoman for Seattle's Finance and Administrative Services (FAS) Department.
The income history of Taylor—a nationally renowned commercial litigator—was "a significant factor" in determining the amount of the settlement, according to an emailed statement from the city. The settlement was first reported Wednesday by the nonprofit news site Crosscut.
The high amount of the settlement "is really because how remarkable Brooke Taylor was as an individual and an attorney," said her lawyer, Todd Gardner, of the Seattle law firm Swanson Gardner Meyers. "She had national reputation and had separated herself in her field. She was probably the most accomplished attorney in her age group in this state, in addition to being a great wife and mom."
At the time of the crash, Taylor was 38 and a partner in the law firm Susman Godfrey's Seattle office. Her clients included T-Mobile, Zillow and REI, according to the firm's website. Known for her work on high-profile intellectual property cases, Taylor was featured on television news and received a number of distinctions from legal organizations and publications.
Shortly before 1 p.m. on April 24, 2016, Taylor was driving west on Seneca Street through a green light when a Seattle Fire Department aid unit heading north on Fourth Avenue plowed into her Porsche 911 Carrera, according to Taylor's claim with the city. The aid car struck Taylor's sports coupe in the left rear quarter panel, "causing it to go into a counter clockwise spin and collide with a traffic signal box and a tree near the northwest corner of the intersection," according to the claim.
The city-employed driver of the aid car had activated the vehicle's lights and siren, but "he was required by Washington law to only proceed through a red traffic light 'after slowing down as may be necessary for safe operation,' " Taylor's claim states. "He did not do so."
Taylor suffered a traumatic brain injury and was taken to Harborview Medical Center.
"The physicians at Harborview thought there was a high likelihood that she would die as a result of her injuries," Gardner said. "They are very impressed that she has recovered the function she has. She's just a fighter and really got great care over these last 2 1/2 years."
Taylor has undergone extensive brain surgery and spent months out of state at inpatient-rehabilitation centers. She lives in an apartment with round-the-clock care, while her family home is being remodeled for her return, Gardner said.
Taylor and her family, who have declined to speak publicly about the case, submitted a claim for damages to the city in September 2017, seeking an unspecified amount to be determined for her recovery costs. The parties agreed to settle the case in October, with a judge approving the settlement on Dec. 27.
Gardner said Taylor probably could have obtained a larger amount, but she sought only the maximum allowed under the city's insurance policies. He added she never sought publicity about the case, choosing instead to keep details about her claim and injuries private.
"She lives in this city with her family, she wasn't interested in punishing the city," Gardner said. "What the family wanted was enough to cover what will be a lifetime of care."
The city has a $6.5 million insurance deductible and worked with its five insurance companies, which have a total of $60 million in insurance coverage, to reach the settlement, according to a statement from the city.
"This settlement does not eliminate insurance coverage for the June 1, 2015, to June 1, 2016, policy year or otherwise alter any current insurance coverage," FAS spokeswoman Cyndi Wilder said in an email Thursday. "Insurance coverage does not begin until the city has paid out $6.5 million on a given matter.
The vast majority of claims and lawsuits are settled for far less than $6.5 million."
Since the accident, the Seattle Fire Department revised department-wide aid-car driver training and created a driver-training instructor position, according to the city's statement.