December 16, 2012 in Region

Jury: Landslides not logging company’s fault

Lisa Broadt McClatchy-Tribune
 

Multinational logging company Menasha was not negligent in their logging practices, and therefore should not be held financially accountable for the 2009 landslide that damaged more than a dozen Glenoma properties, a Lewis County Superior Court jury ruled on Friday morning.

Their decision – returned after several hours of deliberations – followed a six-week trial in which 23 residents of Glenoma sought approximately $5.7 million in damages.

During the trial, the Glenoma plaintiffs asserted that a “steep and unstable slope” was created by Menasha when the company logged 116 acres of timber directly above their residences. On Jan. 7, 2009, jams – formed by logging debris that accumulated water – exploded into violent flash floods that damaged the plaintiffs’ property and caused them bodily injury and emotional distress, the plaintiffs said.

In a pretrial brief, attorneys for the plaintiffs asserted that Menasha knew that clear-cutting in Glenoma would increase the risk of landslides by at least 200 percent.

“In assessing the degree of risk it was willing to take, Menasha knew that there were homes directly below this unit, sitting vulnerably in harm’s way,” the document states. “Menasha took that risk and now Menasha – not the innocent homeowners below – should shoulder the consequences.”

But, the defense countered, Menasha followed all logging rules and regulations as set forth by Washington state – including those intended to prevent mudslides.

“What the plaintiffs really are intent on is a policy argument about clear-cut logging on steep slopes” court documents authored by the defense state. The plaintiffs should take their grievances to the state legislature rather than trying to pin them on a logging company, the defense said.

“This is especially true when plaintiffs chose to purchase homes located on an area historically prone to landsliding,” the documents state.

Menasha is not liable simply because a landslide occurred, the defense concluded – a statement with which the jury ultimately agreed.

If the jury had found Menasha negligent, they could have awarded financial compensation based on the value of damaged or destroyed personal property, land and fixtures; the nature and extent of the plaintiffs’ injuries; and the extent of the disability, disfigurement or loss of enjoyment in life that the plaintiffs suffered.

The plaintiffs and their attorneys now must determine if they have grounds for an appeal, and if they do, whether the plaintiffs have the resources to continue their already four-year legal battle.

Plaintiff Bessie Hurley said she was “very, very disappointed” with the decision.

“We were raped four years ago, and we were raped again this morning,” Hurley said. “The deck was stacked against us because of the lowdown, dirty crap (Menasha) pulled.”


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