Settlement Amount: $2,300,000
Early one November morning, following heavy rains, a massive mudslide roared down Lookout Mountain into Cascade River Park, a recreational development in eastern Skagit County. Bill Bower, 74, Alice Bower, 73, and Betsy Jean Wilson, 63, were killed instantly. Claire Wilson, 64, was buried alive for 13 hours before he was pulled from the debris; he died 13 days later.
The attorneys representing the families of the deceased were Dean Brett, Dave Svaren of Burlington’s Twede & Svaren, and John Ward of Sedro Woolley.
Since the mudslide originated from an old logging road that had been abandoned for 23 years, how could the jury be convinced to hold the state liable for a defect in a road built in the 40’s and not used since 1962?
The attorneys focused on the Department of Natural Resources’ practice of not inspecting or maintaining old logging roads which had been abandoned before the 1974 Forest Practices Act.
The DNR admitted to the lack of inspections but argued that since there are thousands of miles of old logging roads, it would be impractical or impossible to inspect or maintain all of them.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys enlisted the help of a geomorphologist, a climatologist, a forest hydrologist, and a forester to prove that the landslide was caused in part by negligence by the DNR.
The DNR blamed the mudslide on channel changes so recent that reasonable inspection could not have been expected to find them. The plaintiffs created videotapes on the site, aerial photography, and professional photography which demonstrated that the drainage diversion had existed for more than 10 years.
The jury returned a verdict of $500,000 for each death, plus $250,000 for pain and suffering for the 13 days of Claire Wilson’s hospitalization.