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Oso Lawsuits Can Go Forward, But Judge Narrows Avenues Of Litigation

A landslide in Oso, Washington, killed 43 people on March 22, 2014.

Lawsuits against the Washington Department of Natural of Resources and Snohomish County over the deadly Oso landslide can go forward.

But a judge in King County has limited the avenues of litigation available to the victims.

The March 22, 2014 Oso landslide wiped out the Steelhead Haven neighborhood and killed 43 people. In the aftermath, victims and their families filed dozens of wrongful death and personal injury claims against the state and Snohomish County. Now those cases have been consolidated in King County.

The recent court ruling says the families cannot sue under the state’s Growth Management Act or the Forest Practices Act. Peter Goldman of the Washington Forest Law Center said the ruling sends “absolutely the wrong message.”

However, the judge cleared the way for the state and county to still be sued under other causes of action. For example, the Department of Natural Resources could be held liable as a landowner. Snohomish County might still be on the hook for breach of duty.

The state and county have invoked a defense called the public duty doctrine. A trial is scheduled for June 2016.

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."