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Dozens Of Oso Slide Legal Claims Filed Against Washington

Snohomish County
A view of the slope where the Oso landslide took place. (File photo)

The deadly Oso landslide in March has resulted in a blizzard of legal claims against the state of Washington.

As of Tuesday, the state’s risk management office reports it has received 38 tort claims – these are precursors to a lawsuit. Claims have also been filed against Snohomish County.

Named in the claims are the Washington departments of Natural Resources, Ecology, Fish and Wildlife, and Transportation. The tort claims have been filed on behalf of the estates of victims who perished; property owners who survived, but lost everything; and by insurance companies that seek reimbursement for policy payouts.

Karen Willie, one of the attorneys representing several of the families and property owners, calls the Oso landslide a catastrophic event that’s taken a huge emotional toll on the survivors.

"And we’re talking about kids," Willie says. "We’re talking about young adults that are in their 20s. And there’s wives and husbands and it’s just awful."

Willie says the basis for this legal action is a principle in the law called "duty of care." It’s basically the idea that government has a duty to prevent harm to the public.

One angle Willie is pursuing is whether some of the victims may survived the slide, been trapped and died hours later of hypothermia. She says if that turns out to be the case, then damages for pain and suffering would also be pursued.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."