On the eve of a civil trial pertaining to the nation’s deadliest landslide, surviving family members reached a $60 million settlement agreement with the state of Washington and the Grandy Lake Forest Associates timber company.
The landslide on March 22, 2014, killed 43 people in a rural neighborhood northeast of Seattle. For years the timber company had logged a hill above the slide site. Because of previous, smaller landslides caused by the erosion of the riverbank in the area, a retaining wall was built on state land along the bank to catch loose soil. What residents of the neighborhood were not warned about was the increased danger presented by the loose soil that had so far accumulated and contributed to the massive slide. The site had a long history of instability, with reports of landslides dating back 60 years.
In total, there were 27 plaintiffs involved in the lawsuit representing 39 of the victims. The landslide occurred after weeks of heavy rains. An entire neighborhood of about 35 single-family homes, dating to the 1960s, was destroyed. Mud, sand, and soil cascaded down the hill, sweeping up the river with it. Some victims were killed as they drove along the highway. Others died in their homes. The landslide produced enough sand and soil to cover 600 football fields and portions of the highway were buried under 20 feet of muck. Most insurance policies do not cover damages from landslides. After the incident, the state created new rules for logging in landslide-prone areas.
Because the ineffective retaining wall was on state land, officials decided to settle the lawsuit for $50 million. Of the total, the state will only pay $10 million. The remaining $40 million will come from insurance. The timber company came to its own settlement agreement for $10 million.
In addition to the settlement monies, the state will pay nearly $400,000 for attorney’s fees and court costs, as well as almost $790,000 in punitive damages related to the destruction of emails by state witnesses.
Just before the settlements were reached, a judge ruled that he would allow attorneys for the surviving family members to tell the jury that witnesses for the state had, for at least 18 months, been deleting emails pertaining to the case. The deleted emails were from forestry engineers and other experts who were paid $3 million to assist in the state’s defense.
Despite the settlements, the case is not yet over. Attorneys for the plaintiffs are appealing an earlier ruling by the judge that dismissed Snohomish County as a defendant in the case. The families of the victims argue that the county is liable, as well, for the deaths of their loved ones.
If you have been injured or a loved one has been killed in a natural disaster that could have been mitigated by a responsible company or government entity, you may be entitled to compensation. Call the offices of trial attorneys Charles Gilman and Briggs Bedigian at 800-529-6162 or contact them online. The firm handles cases in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.