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Wrongful Death Lawsuit Blames State, County for Oso Mudslide

Updated on: 2/21/2019

Family members of six people who were killed in the Oso mudslide back in March 2014 have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the State of Washington, Snohomish County, and a local logging company for contributing to the deadly disaster.

According to officials, the devastating mudslide took the lives of 43 people, destroyed at least 49 buildings – largely including people’s homes – and resulted in a nearly six-month shutdown of a large stretch of State Route 530, which connects the town of Oso with Darrington.

The damage was so significant that President Obama declared the town of Oso a federal disaster area. The Oso mudslide was the worst in the history of the U.S. that was not caused by an earthquake, volcano, or malfunctioning dam.

In the latest lawsuit, filed in Seattle, the plaintiffs argue that a clearcutting operation performed by the logging company back in 2004 sparked a similar, yet smaller landslide that occurred on the same hillside in 2006. That slide, according to the lawsuit, increased the probability of a disaster like the one that occurred last year.

Plaintiffs Allege Government Knew of Risks

The plaintiffs allege the government bodies involved in restructuring the area after the 2006 slide were negligent, which significantly shifted the location of the Stillaguamish River. Federal, state, and county agencies worked to return the river to its original location after the 2006 slide. But the lawsuit says those efforts only increased the risk of a deadlier disaster.

There is also evidence that allegedly supports the plaintiffs’ claims that the government should have known the area was at risk of a deadly landslide. According to court documents, government agencies had access to multiple scientific reports – including a 1999 report from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a 2010 study sponsored by a local tribe – which warned of potential “catastrophic” failure of the hillside.

Assistant Attorney General Mark Jobson says the state “is preparing to vigorously defend the two lawsuits we have been served with.”

Some experts have described the March 2014 slide as a “naturally caused catastrophic event,” adding that the four-year period which concluded on March 31st was the wettest four-year period on record for the Oso area.

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