Injured pedestrian sues city over crosswalk

Employees leaving the Employment Security building on E. Dunklin Street have to cross Jackson Street to the building’s parking lot. A lawsuit has been filed against Jefferson City after a woman was injured while crossing the street on the way to work.

Employees leaving the Employment Security building on E. Dunklin Street have to cross Jackson Street to the building’s parking lot. A lawsuit has been filed against Jefferson City after a woman was injured while crossing the street on the way to work. Photo by Julie Smith.

Editor's note: See the correction explanation posted below the story.

Six and a half-months after being critically injured in an accident, a Taos-area woman has sued Jefferson City government for its failure to study and fix “foreseeable dangers” at the Jackson-East Dunklin intersection.

At 7:55 a.m. on Feb. 6, Carol Ortbals, 56, was walking uphill, westbound, from a parking lot on the north side of East Dunklin Street to her job at the state Employment Security Division building.

As she crossed Jackson Street, the 22-page lawsuit said a vehicle struck her in the middle of the intersection, causing permanent and debilitating injuries, including a traumatic brain injury which left her in a coma for 14 days.

Defendants in the lawsuit are Jefferson City’s government, former Public Works Director Roger Schwartze and Interim Public Works Director Matt Morasch, who was deputy director under Schwartze.

City Counselor Drew Hilpert said the city had not been served with a copy of the suit and declined to comment.

Schwartze, who left the city last March — after the city’s budget deficit was announced — also declined to comment because he didn’t know about the suit until contacted by a reporter.

Alice Andrews, 29, the driver of the Dodge Caravan that police said hit Ortbals, is not named in the lawsuit.

In the lawsuit, filed by Columbia lawyer A.W. Smith, Ortbals said the city, Schwartze and Morasch “had a duty” under the city-adopted “Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices to conduct engineering studies of traffic conditions, pedestrian characteristics, and physical characteristics of the intersection” and to fix any problems “or reasonably foreseeable dangers” with the intersection.

The lawsuit accused the city officials not only of refusing “to carry out these duties despite known dangers at and around the intersection,” but of knowing about them for “nearly a decade ... during which time defendants were made aware of the specific threat the intersection posed to pedestrians based on numerous collisions ... complaints from citizens, and specific requests to eliminate the hazards at and around the intersection.”

Ortbals suffered injuries that include “severe injuries to her head, neck, back, spine and lower and upper extremities,” the suit said.

In each of the first six counts, the lawsuit asks the court to award $25,000 plus costs and “further relief as otherwise provided by law.”

In the last count, Ortbals’ husband, Phillip, notes he “was, has been, and will forever be deprived of (her) consortium, society, services, earnings and support.”

Additionally, he will be “required to provide additional and increased services and support” to her — and asks the court to award at least $75,000 plus pre- and post-judgment interest.

The case was assigned to Cole County Circuit Judge Dan Green, but — after filing the case in Cole County, where the accident occurred and all parties live or work — Smith asked the court for a change of venue to Boone County.

Correction: The original version of this story stated an incorrect figure for the award requested in the first six counts. The lawsuit asks the court to award $25,000 plus costs on each of those counts. The text in the article has since been corrected.

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