Claims filed today on behalf of six more Oso landslide victims could turn into lawsuits against Snohomish County and the state of Washington later this year.
The claims filed on behalf of three generations of family wiped out by the slide come after $3.5 million in claims were filed against the same government entities April 18 on behalf of the widow of mudslide victim Thomas Durnell. The state and county have 60 days to respond to the claims before lawsuit proceedings can begin.
The latest claims were filed on behalf of the estates of Wyatt Ruthven, 4, Hunter Ruthven, 6, their parents Shane and Katie Ruthven, and their paternal grandparents, JuDee and Lewis Vandenburg. The Ruthvens and Vandenburgs lived in neighboring houses on Steelhead Drive. Guy Michelson, the lawyer for the latest claims, said the claims do not specify a certain amount of damages but estimate the cost to be several million.
Michelson said the claims filed are similar to the previous one filed on behalf of Durnell and will emphasize the failure of Snohomish County and the Department of Natural Resources to warn residents living in the Oso area about landslide dangers. Michelson said those dangers had been studied and documented at least a decade before the Oso landslide obliterated neighborhoods, killed at least 41 people, and left at least two people missing.
“The families’ greatest interest is in seeing a change in the way the state and county government approach these dangers in the future,” Michelson said. “They want government to communicate this information more clearly so people can make an intelligent decision about where they live.”
According to a Seattle Times investigation, regulations forcing property owners to disclose landslide dangers are rare because property owners often fight to preserve the development value of their land. Seattle and Island County are local exceptions.