Settlement Reached Over Mount St. Helens Blast
SEATTLE (AP) _ The Weyerhaeuser Co. and representatives of 14 victims of Mount St. Helens’ 1980 eruption have settled out of court for a reported $225,000, but the forest products company still denies liability.
Plaintiffs alleged in a King County Superior Court suit that Weyerhaeuser misrepresented the danger posed by the volcano and misled loggers and others into believing it was safe to be near the peak.
Fifty-seven people died when the mountain exploded on May 18, 1980, blasting 1,300 feet off its summit and devastating 230 square miles of timber.
Lawyers on Wednesday confirmed the settlement had been reached. It is to be submitted to Judge James McCutcheon for approval Sept. 8. McCutcheon presided at a five-week trial on the lawsuit that ended inconclusively last December.
Several plaintiffs expressed mixed feelings about the settlement in telephone interviews Thursday.
″I wasn’t too happy,″ said James Scymanky, 42, of Woodburn, Ore. ″I had just been hoping for a second trial.″ He was was part of a crew thinning timber on contract with Weyerhaeuser at the time of the Sunday-morning blast and was badly burned.
″I’m not satisfied,″ he added. ″But there’s not a whole lot I could do about it. They said everybody was pretty much agreed on it.″
Mark Clark, Weyerhaeuser’s attorney, said that in agreeing to a settlement the company was not acknowledging responsibility for any of the deaths and damage suffered by those who sued.
″Absolutely not,″ he said Wednesday. ″We’re not liable.″
Ron Franklin, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said, ″In any case tried for five weeks with vigor on both sides that still results in a hung jury after 10 days’ deliberations, both sides automatically contemplate settlement as an option.″ The Superior Court suit, originally filed on behalf of 18 victims, sought unspecified damages from Weyerhaeuser and the state of Washington.
Several sources who spoke on condition of anonymity pegged the settlement at $225,000, with about half of that going to Franklin’s firm.
The settlement covers the families of 12 people killed by the volcano, plus Donald Crick, who lost logging equipment, and Scymanky, Franklin said. ″Every family that chose to pursue the case against Weyerhaeuser and the state has now achieved a settlement with Weyerhaeuser,″ he said.
McCutcheon dismissed the state as a defendant before last year’s trial, ruling state officials were immune from legal action in the eruption.
But Franklin is appealing that decision and says he hopes for a trial against the state, which he alleges was negligent in drawing the boundaries of a restricted access zone too close to the volcano.
″The state appeal involves the purely legal question of sovereign immunity - whether state officials can engage in what I believe is clearly wrongful and incompetent conduct and escape legal liability even though their actions resulted in the deaths of 57 people,″ the lawyer said.
McCutcheon also dismissed the claims of several plaintiffs before the trial began, ruling they were recreational visitors when the volcano erupted. Several of those recreational visitors are included in the Weyerhaeuser settlement, Franklin said.
One plaintiff settled with Weyerhaeuser during the trial and the claims of the remaining nine went to the jury. The trial jury dismissed the claims of three of the nine plaintiffs and deadlocked on six others.