Thursday, April 16, 2009 - Page updated at 11:42 AM

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Jeffrey Totten is shown with his wife Danielle Leavell in this photo taken in 2006.

King County to pay $3.5 million to bicyclist injured on county bike route

Seattle Times staff reporter

King County has agreed to pay $3.5 million to a former Seattle man and his wife after the man suffered a permanent brain injury when he was thrown from his bicycle on a road east of Redmond.

Lawyers for Jeffrey Totten and his wife Danielle Leavell said the county was at fault because it promoted Novelty Hill Road as a bike route but failed to maintain it in a safe condition.

Totten, an endurance athlete, was thrown from his bike when it struck a depression around a survey "monument" in the roadway Sept. 4, 2006. He was 31.

He has been in a hospital, a rehabilitation center and now a group home in Mount Vernon since the accident, which left him in a coma for seven months. The settlement will allow funds for round-the-clock care for the rest of his life, his attorneys said.

Physically, emotionally and cognitively disabled, Totten will never be able to work again. A Navy veteran, he bicycled daily from his home in Seattle's Fremont district to the energy firm where he worked in Issaquah.

The accident occurred while on a longer training ride with friends.

"We deeply regret that this incident occurred and the bicyclist was so severely injured," said King County Transportation Department spokeswoman Rochelle Ogershok. "With the involvement of a mediator we were able to reach a settlement of this case without the necessity of a difficult and lengthy jury trial. We feel the settlement will insure that Mr. Totten has the resources he needs to secure his future well-being and medical needs."

Attorneys for Totten and the county reached the settlement last week. A jury trial had been scheduled to begin Tuesday.

John Christensen, an attorney for Totten and Leavell, said the family would have asked for more money if the case had gone to a jury.

"During negotiations we arrived at a number and a plan that will be able to take care of Jeff for the rest of his life. When you're faced with that versus what a jury may or may not do, your only goal is to take care of your client. Jeff will be taken care of and he will receive excellent care."

Christensen said Totten was put in danger because of a lack of communication between the county Parks and Recreation Division, which promoted Novelty Hill Road in online and printed maps as a bike route, and the Road Services Division, which allowed a hole around the survey marker to grow deeper with successive paving jobs.

Leavell said her husband was training for the 700-mile Paris-Brest-Paris bike event when the accident occurred.

Although it is "difficult to live constantly in that tragedy," Leavell said she was "thrilled" about the settlement. "It's such a relief to know that Jeff will be able to have the care that he needs and deserves and after everything we've been through it's good to be able to breathe and try to put our lives back together and move ahead."

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or