News

March 31, 2014

Oso Landslide Similar to 2007 Event

More than 20 people are dead, at least eight injured and approximately 30 are still unaccounted for after a massive landslide broke from a clear-cut hillside and leveled homes about four miles east of the community of Oso in Snohomish County according to published reports.

PCVA has helped people in death and catastrophic injury cases.  Often, survivors of catastrophic situations often feel like they need legal advice immediately due to the influx of incoming calls and demands by insurance adjusters calling about property damages, life insurance, or medical insurance coverage.  Occasionally, there may be a need to contact a probate attorney, an employer, or a host of other decisions that survivors of catastrophic situations are being bombarded with in rapid succession.  Blogging about these matters is a sensitive matter, but PCVA’s goal is to make ourselves available to those confronted immediately with the terrible demands and burdens of being the survivor, left to pick up the pieces and keep moving forward.

PCVA has helped people in this situation.  In 2011, PCVA filed several lawsuits against timber companies and the State Department of Natural Resources (“DNR”) to help families who were victims of risky timber practices.  Experts retained by PCVA agree that landslides and mudslides occur when timber is harvested on steep slopes in areas of unstable land, heavy rainfall, and defective drainage.

Ranch House BBQ was destroyed in a 2007 landslide

For example, such risky timber practices were the result of a mudslide that destroyed the Ranch House BBQ restaurant in 2007.  There, the facts were very similar to the type of logging that occurred right above the OSO Landslide.  DNR denied any wrongdoing, but in the end, it recognized that the evidence showed that risky timber practices caused the landslide.  Thankfully, the case involved only property and business damages, and not personal injury or wrongful death.  More can be read about the case here.

PCVA is also currently awaiting an important decision from the Washington State Supreme Court in the several cases filed in 2011.  The decision will have an impact on where lawsuits for property damages can be filed.  Oral arguments were heard in the spring of 2013 and a should be released shortly.

Washington law is clear that timber companies can be held responsible for their risky timber practices.  The recent mudslides along Highway 530 near OSO in Snohomish County underscore exactly how risky timber practices can lead to catastrophe. .  Sadly, the evidence is mounting that risky timber practices, coupled with rain and other elements, caused the perfect recipe for one of the worst disaster tragedies that Washington has ever seen.  PCVA extends their deepest condolences to those families impacted by the mudslide.

March 26, 2014

Risky Timber Practices Above Oso Landslide

March 2014 Oso Landslide

The Seattle Times reported yesterday that the Snohomish County’s own 2010 report called the slide area dangerous.  It also reported that the State Department of Natural Resources (“DNR”) allowed logging on the plateau above the slope. The Seattle Times’ reporting mirrors what PCVA’s own independent research has yielded.

The triangle of land that was logged just before the 2006 Stealhead Mudslide can be seen in this image:

Area logged before the 2014 Oso, WA landslide

As the Seattle Times reported, the apex of this triangle cut facing down was only a mere 600 feet from the origin of the 2006 Sealhead Mudslide.  This is a particularly dangerous cut in land that has been known for years to be unstable.

DNR approved timber harvesting on this land even though its own maps showed that the Oso slide area is not only steep but also comprised of “Qls” soil, a type of unconsolidated sediment:

DNR QIs soil, an unconsolidated sediment

Upon further investigation, PCVA has discovered that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) has a database containing additional information about the unstable soil composition of the Oso Mudslide area.  According to the USDA maps, the soil where the mudslide occurred was comprised of fine to gravelly “loam,” a type of soil comprised of mostly sand and silt.  Perhaps more alarming is that the area where the Oso Mudslide occurred, as well as where timber cuts have been allowed, were labeled “ESB.”  According to the USDA’s website, “ESB” stands for “Escarpment, bedrock,” and is defined as “A relatively continuous and steep slope or cliff, which was produced by erosion or faulting, that breaks the general continuity of more gently sloping land surfaces.  Exposed material is hard or soft bedrock.”  The following map shows the different soil types outlined in orange and numbered, as well as the “ESB” demarcations:

WA DNR - ESB Demarcations, Oso, WA

Experts alike agree that risky timber activities increases landslide frequency.  In a paper published in Geology in April 2000, several landslide experts surveyed landslides in Washington and concluded that “evidence confirm[s] that forest clearing increases regional landslide frequency.”  They further remarked that a “fundamental change in landscape dynamics is particularly relevant to long-term forest planning, especially where urban areas are extending into landslide-prone terrain.”  A copy of this paper can be found here [176kb PDF].

Just as these experts concluded, another team of experts from Tetra Tech identified the Oso Mudslide area as being dangerous.  As the Seattle Times reported, Tetra Tech’s study, a portion of which can be found here, identified the Oso Mudslide area “spotlighted the risks of the hill.”  “[T]he Steelhead Drive area was identified not only because of the steep slope but also because of a soil type that has been linked to landslides.”

Other Landslide Lawsuits

In lawsuits against DNR and timber companies for negligent forestry practices, PCVA has uncovered a history of relaxed permitting and risky cutting driven by money that has caused numerous mudslides all across Washington.  Despite all experts agreeing that harvesting on or near unstable slopes is dangerous, the practice continues to this day.

In 2011, PCVA filed a lawsuit against DNR and Manke Lumber Company (“Manke”) for their negligent harvest of timber both on and near unstable soil and steep slopes. There, DNR cut on some slopes exceeding 110% in grade and cut on other slopes too close to ravine tops.  DNR made these cuts even though a 1960 soil survey of the area identified the soil composition of Little Dewatto valley slopes as “Rough broken land,” which “has no agricultural value and should be left in its natural cover to prevent erosion.”  Disregarding the studies, as well as common sense, DNR and Manke cut on extremely steep slopes comprised of unstable soil.  These practices destabilized the area, and landslides have recurred every year for the last 5 years in the area, causing significant damage to the properties below.

Similar disregard for the high risk of mudslides is the basis of another lawsuit that PCVA is fighting against Manke.  In that case, Manke knew or should have known that a logging road it was required to maintain was likely to fail and cause a landslide.  The foreseeable happened on January 7, 2009, when the road failure caused a massive mudslide that destroyed a home and nearly took several lives.  These photos are only but another example of risky timber practices and man-made causes of mudslides that wreak havoc on families:

landslide-aftermath-1

Landslide Aftermath

landslide-aftermath-2

March 15, 2014

J.N., et al. v. Boy Scouts of America, et al. – Confidential Settlement

Four men have settled their claims against the Boy Scouts of America for sexual abuse they suffered as young boys between 1979 and 1986 at Fire Mountain Boy Scout Camp by the camp’s Aquatics Director, Charles S. Grewe. Since at least 1979, the Boy Scouts knew Grewe was a pedophile based on complaints of abuse made by other young scouts. Almost every year between 1979 and 1987, young boys at Fire Mountain camp reported to camp leaders that Grewe sexually abused them at the swim beach. Similarly, in 1981, young boys from Troop 41 in Lake Stevens, WA, reported that that Grewe sexually abused them during Scout meetings. That information was immediately reported to the Scout Executive of the Evergreen Area Local Council, but Grewe, who was heavily decorated and considered a “respected member of the Scouting community,” was allowed to remain in various leadership positions in Scouting, including his close work with children at Fire Mountain Scout camp. Meanwhile, outside of Scouting, Grewe worked as a bus driver for various elementary schools in the Everett School District. Finally, in 1988, Grewe was arrested and convicted for numerous sexual offenses against children after he was found to have sexually abused a number of boys and girls on the school bus. In 1988, the Boy Scouts of America met with Grewe to discuss the numerous allegations of abuse, and finally suspended him from Scouting, action they should have taken almost ten years earlier.

4 Tents set up at Camp

Result
  • Settlement: Confidential
Defendant(s)
Attorneys
March 14, 2014

Seattle Archdiocese Data Breach

Seattle Archdiocese Data Breach and Identity Theft

March 2014 Seattle Archdiocese Data Breach

A large-scale data breach has occurred at the Seattle Archdiocese this week that reportedly affects more than 90,000 volunteers and employees.  The Seattle Archdiocese held data, including social security numbers, in a database.  The Archdiocese used this data to conduct background checks on its employees and volunteers.

Identity Theft Lawsuits

A question that will need to be asked is “Did the Archdiocese do enough to protect its employees and volunteers from identity theft?”  At this point, it is not known if they had appropriate data security on their databases.  A lawsuit would enable legal discovery, a process in which depositions are taken and records subpoenaed.

Can I sue for identity theft?

Identity theft causes myriad issues in a person’s life.  It’s not just the inconvenience of changing your credit and debit cards, or the feeling of having been violated.  You’ll have to watch your credit for years and always be on guard.  An identity thief could open credit accounts in your name, or gain access to your financial institutions and steal money directly.  The effects of identity theft are long lasting.  You should contact an attorney and see if you may be entitled to sue for compensation.

Tax Refund Identity Theft Scam

In the case of the Catholic Church’s Seattle Archdiocese data breach, the thieves gained access to the names, addresses, and social security numbers of the affected people and sometimes filed false tax returns in order to obtain tax refunds.  It’s a scheme that’s been prevalent this year, according to the IRS.  You can check to see if you were affected specifically by going to http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Get-Transcript.

Seattle Archdiocese Schools Closed

Some of the Catholic Archdiocese schools closed Friday, March 14, 2014 so an investigation into the data breach could be conducted.

March 11, 2014

R.R. v State of Washington DSHS – $3,000,000 Settlement

Great result for our client, R.R. $3,000,000 settlement with DSHS for years of repeated rape and child sexual abuse at the hands of her abuser, the father of her 2 children. CPS had many chances to intervene in her horror story, but neglected to follow their own procedures. Even after her abuser kidnapped her during CPS’ involvement, the agency failed to contact law enforcement or otherwise take action. As a result, she was raped and abused for over a decade while living in hiding throughout Idaho and Utah.
Accused Child Abuser

March 11, 2014

Woman Settles Child Abuse Case Against Washington State for $3,000,000

The State of Washington has agreed to pay $3,000,000 to a woman, identified only by her initials R.R., who alleges Child Protective Services failed to protect her after she gave birth when she was just 12 years old and entered state protective care.  R.R. alleges the same man, her mother’s boyfriend, impregnated her again within two months after she gave birth and continued to sexually and physically abuse her over the next decade while he held her captive and she raised his sons.  The settlement will allow the State to avoid a jury trial that was previously scheduled to begin today in Tacoma, Washington.

In January 1995, Washington State’s Child Protective Services was notified that R.R., a sixth grader at the time, had just given birth at Deaconess Hospital in Spokane, Washington.  Given her age and lack of prenatal care, the hospital’s workers asked CPS to investigate.

Records and testimony obtained during the litigation show that CPS workers quickly identified her mother’s 35-year old boyfriend, Christopher Eugene Hamburg, as the likely father, and R.R.’s sixth grade teacher testified that she told CPS that Hamburg was likely the father.  R.R. alleged that CPS did nothing to protect her from Hamburg, but instead asserted that it could not intervene because the 12-year old R.R. had not personally reported the abuse.

Accused Child Abuser Christopher Eugene Hamburg

While the investigation was still pending, Hamburg moved R.R.’s family out of Spokane, and R.R. alleges CPS did nothing to try to find her or to warn law enforcement that Hamburg had the family on the run.

Ten months later, when the family was living in Boise, Idaho, R.R. alleges she gave birth to another child by Hamburg.  She was only 13 years old.

Over the next 15 years, R.R. alleges Hamburg continued to sexually abuse her while he moved her family between various locations in Washington, Utah, and Idaho.  In 2010, when she was 27 years old, Hamburg allowed her to use the internet for the first time, and she made friends in a chat room.  One of those friends, R.R. says, helped her realize the gravity of the crimes that Hamburg had committed.  She left him shortly thereafter.

R.R.’s attorney, Michael T. Pfau, who has brought a number of cases against the State of Washington on behalf of abuse survivors, finds this one of the most disturbing cases he has handled: “In 1995, the state claimed they couldn’t do more because R.R. did not personally report the abuse, despite an abundance of evidence that she was a child in danger.  Fast forward twenty years, and the State was still suggesting CPS is not responsible because R.R. did not disclose the abuse.  But that’s why CPS exists:  to protect children from abuse, not to blame them for it.”

The alleged perpetrator, Christopher Eugene Hamburg, is still on the loose, and could face criminal charges.  The legislature in Idaho, where R.R. claims Hamburg abused her for many years, previously abolished its statute of limitations for child rape.  It is unclear whether news of the settlement will cause police and prosecutors in that state to re-visit whether they can charge Hamburg with child rape, particularly with the availability of paternity and DNA testing.

Child Abuse Statute of Limitations

It is also unclear whether similar legislation will be introduced in the Washington legislature to abolish the statute of limitations for child abuse, but according to Pfau, this case demonstrates the need to do so:  “Washington is a leading state when it comes to civil liability for those who abuse children and for those who fail to protect children.  Our children are undoubtedly safer because of it, but reforming Washington’s criminal statute of limitations is the next step.”

News Coverage

February 6, 2014

For-Profit Corinthians Colleges, Inc. Under Investigation

For-profit colleges count on high job placement numbers to boost their appeal to would-be applicants.  It makes sense, since the reason people go to college is to get a good job.  Corinthians Colleges, Inc., the Huffington Post has revealed actually paid employers to temporarily hire their graduates (they paid one employer $2000 for guaranteed 30 day employment).  Corinthians Colleges, Inc., who operates Everest College, is federally accredited, which means it can accept student loans through the Department of Education.

Corinthian Colleges' Everest College Financial Aid and Job Placement Text from their Website

Students and former students, we’d like to hear from you.

If you are a student of one of Corinthians Colleges, Inc.’s many campuses (including Everest College, WyoTech, Heald College, and QuickStart Intelligence) and you’ve had trouble with the education that was provided or with the job placement, we’d like to talk to you about your experience.  Please either call 1-800-349-PCVA (7282) or use the contact form located below.

Success in lawsuits against for-profit colleges

Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala PLLC has had success in suing for-profit higher education institutions just like Corinthians.  A lawsuit from 2005-2009 against the Business Computer Technology Institute (BCTI) for educational malpractice resulted in settlements valued at more than $15 million. Darrell Cochran was the lead attorney in the BCTI lawsuits, and he, with co-counsel came to an agreement with the defendants and their insurance carrier to pay former students a cash settlement.

Tacoma Attorney Darrell Cochran

Darrell has been practicing law since graduating from the University of Michigan Law School in 1993.  He has a wealth of jury trial experience, with many cases reaching results of over $1 million.  Use the contact form below to send Darrell a message.

  • The use of the internet or this form to communicate with PCVA or any individual member of the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship. By using this form, you agree that you are not expecting to receive legal advice from PCVA, you are not relying on PCVA to provide you with legal advice, and that no attorney-client relationship exists until an attorney from our firm has affirmatively indicated that we will represent you. Finally, every case is governed by a statute of limitations, which means it must be filed within a certain amount of time after the event giving rise to liability, so time-sensitive information should not be sent through this form.

January 21, 2014

Secret files on 30 Alleged Child Abusers in the Chicago Archdiocese Released

The Chicago Archdiocese has released its files on 30 priests who are alleged to have sexually abused minors, primarily in the 1980’s and 1990’s.  The names of the alleged priests include Fr. Norbert Maday, Fr. Kenneth Brigham, Fr. William O’Brien, Fr. Robert Mayer, Fr. Henry Swider, Fr. John Curran, Fr. Raymond Skriba, Fr. William Cloutier, Fr. James Hagan, Fr. Joseph Fitzharris, Fr. Thomas Job, Fr. Robert Becker, Fr. Marion Snieg, Fr. Daniel Holihan, Fr. Daniel McCormack, and there are more.

January 15, 2014

Olympia School District to Pay $1.2M to Child Sex Abuse Victim

The Olympia School District’s insurer has tentatively agreed to pay $1.2 million to a former Garfield Elementary School kindergartener who was molested by Gary Shafer, a former Olympia school bus driver, in 2010.

In 2011, a Thurston County Superior Court judge sentenced former Olympia school bus driver Gary Schafer, now 35, to 14 1/2 years to life in prison for sexually assaulting three girls on Olympia school buses, including the then-5-year-old girl whose civil case was settled on Tuesday.

Shafer’s two other minor victims also have won cash awards as a result of their civil lawsuits. In September 2013, the school district’s insurer agreed to pay a then 6-year-old victim $750,000 to settle her lawsuit.

And, in late September 2012, a jury ordered the Olympia school district to pay a third victim $1.4 million after it found the district was negligent and failed to properly supervise Shafer. The jury awarded the girl $1.4 million at the conclusion of a jury trial.

Read more here: http://www.theolympian.com/2014/01/14/2930708/olympia-school-district-to-pay.html

If you or your child are a victim of child sex abuse, please contact PCVA today and learn your options.  All consultations are free and confidential.

January 7, 2014

PCVA Client Wins $375k Settlement in Wrongful Death Suit

From the Seattle Times: Parents allege drug task-force members did nothing to protect their son after his identity as a confidential informant was compromised; police say Jeremy McLean just wasn’t careful, even though he’d been warned.

The four law-enforcement agencies that make up the Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Narcotics Task Force have agreed to pay the parents of a dead confidential informant $375,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging detectives failed to protect their son after they used him to snare a local heroin dealer.

Jeremy McLean, 26, was a small-time drug dealer and user who agreed to work for the task force in 2006 to avoid drug charges of his own. He was killed Dec. 29, 2008, in a Longview trailer home by William Vance Reagan Jr., a heroin dealer who had been arrested by task-force detectives after McLean — working undercover and wearing a wire — bought drugs from him.

Read the rest of the story: http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2022611409_informantdeath1xml.html

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