Proposed settlement reached in Washington landslide suit

SEATTLE – Attorneys representing the survivors and family members of people who died in a massive 2014 landslide north of Seattle have announced a proposed $50 million settlement with the state of Washington on the eve of a trial.

The tentative pact was announced Sunday night. The state Attorney General’s Office did not immediately return messages from The Associated Press.

The lawsuit was filed following the devastating March 22, 2014, Oso landslide, which wiped out a rural neighbourhood and killed 43 people.

The victims or their families alleged that the state, Snohomish County or a company that logged above where the hillside collapsed have liability for worsening the damage or failing to warn about the danger. The proposed deal was first reported by the Seattle Times, which reported that it still must be approved by Judge Roger Rogoff, who has presided over the litigation.

The attorneys for the victims said they would continue pressing their claims against Snohomish County and the logging company.

A trial is scheduled to begin Monday.

Last week Rogoff ordered the Washington Attorney General’s Office to give him internal emails that might help explain when state lawyers handling the landslide liability case realized that their expert witnesses were improperly deleting emails. Rogoff ordered the office to produce the emails, saying it’s critical for him to know what they show as he considers punishing the state for allowing the destruction of potential evidence in the case.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson has already acknowledged that one of his lawyers knew for the past year and a half that experts hired by the state to determine the cause of the 2014 slide were deleting emails among themselves. But the office insists that its other lawyers were unaware, and that the lawyers and the experts believed the emails did not need to be turned over to the plaintiffs and thus could be deleted.

Following the landslide the state imposed new rules on logging in landslide-prone areas. The slide struck after weeks of heavy rains. The neighbourhood that was destroyed was a development of about 35 single-family homes, some dating to the 1960s, across the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River from a hillside in the Cascade Mountains.

The river eroded the base of the hill, as it had been doing for decades, causing numerous smaller slides. The deadly 2014 slide produced enough sand and soil to cover 600 football fields, which rushed down and swept the river up with it. A highway was buried under as much as 20 feet of muck.