All individual parties in litigation surrounding a fatal landslide in Sitka in August, 2015, have settled out of court, averting a 6-week trial.
Ketchikan Superior Court Judge Trevor Stephens signed orders dismissing three lawsuits in January and February.
One dispute — between the developer of the Kramer Avenue neighborhood and the City of Sitka — remains in litigation.
Christine McGraw and her neighbors Andrew and Rebecca Friske filed suit against Sound Development a few months after the August 18, 2015, landslide slammed into their newly-built homes. Neither plaintiff had moved into their houses at the time of the slide. McGraw’s home was being painted by the brothers Elmer and Ulises Diaz, both of whom lost their lives when tons of uprooted trees and mud obliterated the structure.
The Friske’s home was heavily damaged, and has stood unfinished since the slide.
The lawsuits brought by McGraw, the Friskes, and the estate of Elmer and Ulises Diaz were consolidated by the court in June of 2017. At the time, attorneys estimated that it would take six weeks to try the case, beginning in 2019.
In a statement prepared by its legal counsel, the City of Sitka confirms that the matter — for all three plaintiffs — has been settled.
The statement reads, in part “Sitka is pleased … that the Diaz and Friske families have settled their legal claims related to the August 2015 Kramer Avenue landslide. The City denies wrongdoing, and the settlement does not acknowledge wrongdoing. The City respects and cares about the families involved and their claims, and the settlement avoids lengthy, costly, and uncertain litigation for all parties and the community. The insurance carrier for the City funded its portion of the settlement.”
Reached for comment, municipal attorney Brian Hanson stated that there was no cash outlay from city in the settlement. Additionally “the assembly had to make no decision by policy” in the matter — hence, there was no public deliberation or vote.
The amount of the settlements has not been disclosed. Both McGraw and the Friskes remain the legal owners of their damaged properties. In her original lawsuit, Christine McGraw asked for an amount “believed to exceed $100,000 — the exact amount to be proven at trial.”
The settlements do not completely close the case, however. Defendant Sound Development filed a cross-claim against the home builder, McG Constructors (formerly McGraw’s Custom Construction), and against the City of Sitka itself, for subdividing the area known as the benchlands and offering it for sale.
The claim against McG Constructors has now been dropped, along with the individual claims, but Sound Development is continuing litigation against the city. In court documents Sound Development argued that the City of Sitka “represented the property to be ‘prime’ residential development property” at the time the 20 acres of land were sold.
The next hearing in the case is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday, March 9, in Sitka Superior Court.