The state Department of Transportation (DOT) and two of its contractors have agreed to pay nearly $60 million to more than 300 people who lost property during the 2012 Taylor Bridge Fire in Kittitas County, Wash. This is said to be the largest wildfire damage settlement in state history. The bulk of the $59.75 million settlement will come from insurance companies.

Investigators determined that the fire was sparked by construction workers welding on the Taylor Bridge on State Route 10 east of Cle Elum without proper fire-safety precautions. The fire quickly spread across 23,500 acres, destroying 61 homes and more than 100 outbuildings and other structures. In the fire’s aftermath, about a dozen lawsuits were filed by landowners and their insurance companies. The cases were consolidated by a King County judge after the Kittitas County Superior Court judges recused themselves, citing too many potential conflicts of interest.

The basic settlement was in place in August, just before the trial was set to start, but it took several more months to work out details and get all documents approved by all parties. The state is paying the majority of the settlement: $40 million from the Department of Transportation’s insurance company and another $10 million from state funds. Its contractor, Conway Construction Co. of Ridgefield, will pay $8 million from its insurance. The subcontractor, Rainier Steel Inc. of Auburn, will pay $1.75 million from its insurance.

The fire investigation report, prepared by the state Department of Natural Resources, identified the two contractors as negligent for welding and cutting steel when fire danger was high with no spotter on the lookout for fire starts below the bridge. But the judge determined that DOT was liable as well. The State of Washington had known about prior fires started at the site and that there wasn’t adequate fire protection. There was an outside inspector, but, reportedly, he didn’t do anything.

The law firm of Abeyton Nelson represented 124 of the claimants. Greg Lighty and Rod Nelson were the lead lawyers for the firm in this litigation. They did a very good job.

Source: Yakima Herald

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