Plaintiffs’ attorneys say they have reached a $50 million settlement with the state in an Oso landslide lawsuit, subject to approval by a judge.
The slide on March 22, 2014, killed 43 people, including former Canonsburg resident Billy L. Spillers, 30, and three of his children when it wiped out a rural neighborhood in Oso, northeast of Seattle. Survivors and relatives of the victims alleged that logging above the slide and construction of a retaining wall along a bank where the Stillaguamish River undercut the hill increased the danger, and residents were never warned about it.
The lawsuit came as “great” news to Spillers’ niece Billie Spillers, 39, of Milwaukie, Ore.
“I think this lawsuit is great (due) to the fact they knew it was not safe to build,” said Spillers in a written response to questions. “My uncle wouldn’t have moved his family there (if) there was a possible chance of this happening. Nor would anyone else for that fact. It was never safe.”
The slide struck after weeks of heavy rain. The neighborhood that was destroyed consisted of about 35 single-family homes, some dating to the 1960s, across the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River from a hillside in the Cascade Mountains.
Billy Spillers, a graduate of Chartiers-Houston Junior-Senior High School who lived with his family in Arlington, Wash., was home with his four children when the landslide hit. He and three of the children — Jovon Mangual, 13, Kaylee Spillers, 5, and Brook Spillers, 2 — died. Jacob Spillers, who was then 4, survived.
“My uncle was a very kind, caring, loving husband, father and friend to all,” Billie Spillers wrote. “He was a man of his word and was always there to help anyone he could.”
The river eroded the base of the hill, as it had been doing for decades, causing numerous smaller slides. The slide produced enough sand and soil to cover 600 football fields and rushed down and swept the river up with it. The highway was buried under as much as 20 feet of muck.
“The community was never given the chance to make a meaningful decision about landslide risks because the State and Grandy Lake Forest Associates (as well as the other defendant) — who possessed critical information about the unstable and potentially devastating nature of those risks — refused to give them that information,” Corrie Yackulic, an attorney for some plaintiffs, said in an email statement.
Just as opening statements were due to begin in a Seattle courtroom Monday, Grandy Lake Forest Associates agreed to settle liability claims for $10 million. The state on Sunday reached a $50 million deal with the plaintiffs.
After the landslide, the state imposed new rules on logging in landslide-prone areas. The timber company didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.