Jury holds county harmless in landslide lawsuit

Jury holds county harmless in landslide lawsuit
In this Jan. 24, 2012 file photo, is a house on Vineyard Mountain that shifted down the hillside in Corvallis, Ore. A jury on Friday April 26, 2013 ruled that Benton County does not have to compensate a couple who lost their Corvallis-area home to a landslide. The lawsuit filed by Bob and Gayna Flake claimed their loss constituted an "inverse condemnation" by Benton County because the county-maintained drainage system diverted runoff onto their Vineyard Mountain property. (AP Photo/The Corvallis Gazette-Times, Jesse Skoubo, File)

CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) — A jury has ruled that Benton County does not have to compensate a couple who lost their Corvallis-area home to a landslide.

The lawsuit filed by Bob and Gayna Flake claimed their loss constituted an "inverse condemnation" by Benton County because the county-maintained drainage system diverted runoff onto their Vineyard Mountain property.

The home was knocked off its foundations during heavy rains in January 2012. The Flakes got no money from their insurance company because damage from earth movement is not covered by the policy. They sought $885,000 from the county, the estimated value of the house and its contents.

"We were shocked" by the losing verdict, Gayna Flake told the Corvallis Gazette-Times on Wednesday. "It was devastating."

The couple has yet to decide whether to appeal, said their attorney, Joel P. Leonard, of Portland. They have 30 days from the time the court judgment is entered, which is expected to happen next week.

Even if there's no appeal, the county might not be in the clear. A dozen other homeowners filed tort claim notices last summer, reserving their right to sue over the drainage issue, even though no other houses were damaged by slides during the January 2012 storms and flooding.

Benton County Counsel Vance Croney said the Flake case focused on the question of whether the county had deprived the couple of their home and possessions by failing to prevent the landslide. Because there has been no compensation, that would constitute an illegal taking.

"The jury found that the storm water system did not cause the landslide," Croney said. "Therefore, there was no taking."

Though the Flakes failed in court, there is still a possibility for help.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency initially ruled the couple did not qualify for government disaster aid. Croney said another possible avenue for obtaining FEMA funds recently emerged. Now that the lawsuit is over, the county will look into it, he said.

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Information from: Gazette-Times, http://www.gtconnect.com

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press