Cases against the State of Washington

About the Case

In December 2010, a Thurston County jury determined that DSHS breached the contracts with the care providers by using the Shared Living Rule, awarding $57,123,794.50 million in damages. The State chose to appeal the verdict, and oral arguments were heard back in May 2013. The Supreme Court’s decision preserved the jury verdict in its entirety, eliminated pre-judgment interest but upheld the award of post-judgment interest.

The total judgment, including interest was over $95,000,000 and was paid out to the class members in 2015.

Find out more about the lawsuit against DSHS at dshslawsuit.com.

About the Case

No amount of money can return lost loved ones or restore the homes and memories destroyed in a tragedy, but a significant legal settlement can serve as a stern warning to businesses and governments. The landslide attorneys at PCVA and the other firms involved delivered such a message to the State of Washington and the Grandy Lake Forest Associates timber company in October 2016 in wrongful death litigation in the wake of a deadly landslide.

On March 22, 2014, tragedy struck the Steelhead Haven community in Oso, Washington after weeks of rain rendered the clear-cut mountainside unstable. There was no warning for the residents, and they had nowhere to run as a 30- to 70-foot high wall of mud, trees, and debris slid down the mountain, burying entire families, a neighborhood, and a highway over one square mile of devastated ground. The Oso tragedy is the nation’s deadliest landslide to date.

Though the residents below weren’t warned, both the state and the logging company witnessed multiple warning signs of the impending danger. Despite this knowledge, no one did anything to warn the vulnerable population who lived below the denuded mountain. The state, aware of the long history of instability on the mountain, allowed logging and constructed a crib wall fence to stabilize the mountainside. Ultimately, that fence only allowed earth from earlier landslides to accumulate behind it, strengthening the eventual mudslide and causing it to engulf the neighborhood. A clear-cutting timber operation increased runoff on the mountain and made the land more susceptible to landslides. Further, the state withheld crucial information from residents, keeping them in the dark about these risks.

In October 2016, PCVA landslide attorneys Loren Cochran and Darrell Cochran were on the team of attorneys who negotiated a $60 million settlement with two defendants in the King County Superior Court. The state settled on the eve of trial for $50 million for its role in the tragedy. Grandy Lake Forest Associates, the timber company operating on the mountain, agreed to pay $10 million the following day, just before the start of opening statements. The settlement does not include additional penalties and costs against the state for its experts’ improper destruction of email evidence throughout the litigation.

PCVA represented three of the 27 plaintiffs in the lawsuit: Randi Lester, who filed a wrongful death claim on behalf of her 14-year-old son, Denver Harris, an avid hiker who was killed in his home; Mark Lambert, who suffered serious permanent injuries to his arm as well as catastrophic property damage; and Robin Youngblood, the first victim to be rescued from her engulfed home, who lost nearly everything she owned.

While the settlement does not make these or the other victims whole, it is already acting as an effective warning for localities and companies. Washington has imposed new logging rules for landslide-prone areas in the aftermath of the Oso landslide. A memorial will be established with part of the funds from the settlement to ensure that what happened in Oso never happens again.

About the Case

From the Seattle Times:

Aba Sheikh, then 16, had been in the United States just eight months when he was attacked on March 27, 1999. He had survived a civil war in Somalia, the disappearance of both of parents and years in a refugee camp in Kenya with his extended family. With his uncle’s help, he settled in West Seattle.

He appears to have barely known Pierre, Anderson and Michael G. that Saturday when he rode by them on a pink bike. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, Aba Sheikh and Michael G. squared off, but Aba Sheikh left without any blows exchanged.

That evening, Aba Sheikh and a family friend drove into a West Seattle gas station to buy a phone card. The trio of foster boys, along with another friend, Pulefano Ativalu, were smoking pot at a bus stop across the street.

As the group ran over to the car, Aba Sheikh’s friend ran into the store terrified. The attackers gave conflicting testimony at trial, but Aba Sheikh was dragged out of the car, then kicked in the head about 10 times by Pierre and Anderson.

Pierre and Ativalu, both 16 at the time of the attack, were convicted of assault as adults and are serving sentences of at least 10 years. Anderson, 15 at the time, is serving more than seven years as an adult. Michael G., also 15 at the time, was convicted as a juvenile and is now out.

On the stand last week, Pierre, in a prison-red jumpsuit, slouched into the witness chair. Asked why the assault happened, he shook his head. “Nothing else to do, I guess.”

The jury found the state Department of Social and Health Services failed to heed warnings about an escalating crime spree of two foster children involved in an assault on Said Aba Sheikh.

The jury said it intended the unusually big award to pay for the 20-year-old’s lifelong medical care.

DSHS officials protested yesterday’s verdict, saying it unfairly holds caseworkers accountable for criminal acts outside their control. DSHS has often been held responsible for harm to foster children, but Aba Sheikh’s case is one of just a handful that pinned blame for harm done by foster children.

The jury, which deliberated over three days, also ordered King County to pay Aba Sheikh $1.5 million for failing to provide adequate probation supervision of three of Aba Sheikh’s attackers in the months before the assault.

About the Case

Darrell L. Cochran and his client, Kathie Lee Larson settled their case with the Washington State DOC for $4,250,000.  Kathie was run down by a mentally-ill DOC parolee in a stolen car, causing life-altering brain injuries.

Kathie Larson suffered a number of traumatic injuries, including brain damage, when Aiyisha Gillespie allegedly ran her down with a stolen car in June 2008. Larson was crossing a street in downtown Tacoma at the time. She was comatose for three weeks and hospitalized for six months.

About the Case

PCVA attorneys Darrell Cochran, Loren Cochran, and Cole Douglas reached a $3,100,000 settlement with the State of Washington for the abuse suffered by a little girl in Vancouver, Washington. DSHS placed the then state-dependent two-year-old girl into the custody of her biological father even though DSHS social workers knew about the father’s previous conviction for Child Rape in the Second Degree.

Following termination of dependency by the State, the father had unfettered access to his daughter for a four year period in which he routinely sexually abused her. The little girl was finally removed from her father’s care after she disclosed her abuse to other children on her bus.

PCVA filed suit against the State of Washington and DSHS in 2016 alleging that the little girl never should have been placed in the sole, unsupervised custody of her child rapist father. PCVA also argued that DSHS, who controls the flow of information to the court, failed to disclose and materially misrepresented other pertinent information about the biological father prior to the Court’s ruling on dependency. The case quickly settled after the State’s motion for summary judgment was denied.

About the Case

Our client, R.R., has settled for $3,000,000 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.

About the Case

Our client, M.M., recently settled her case against DSHS for $2,500,000.  Her case arose from sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her foster parent, Lester Drappeaux, who DSHS licensed to be a foster parent despite the fact that he was a convicted sex offender.

In December 1971, Lester Drappeaux was working as a janitor for the Snohomish School District when he was terminated over allegations that he had engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor student.  The local prosecutor brought charges against Drappeaux, who pled guilty to taking indecent liberties with a minor and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

From 1972 to 1974, the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (“DSHS”) oversaw Drappeaux’s probation for the sex crime conviction.   However, just four years later, DSHS granted Drappeaux a license to be a foster parent, despite a Washington law that disqualified sex offenders from becoming a foster parent.

PCVA attorney Jason P. Amala, who has brought a number of cases against the State of Washington on behalf of abuse survivors, says the mistake occurred at a time DSHS was being warned that its system was broken:  “Lester Drappeaux was licensed just two years after the state auditor publicly warned DSHS that its system was broken, and that sex offenders like Drappeaux were in the foster care program and abusing children.  We saw no evidence DSHS did anything meaningful in response to those warnings.”

The State of Washington took custody of M.M. in 1979, when she was about five years old.  That same year, DSHS placed M.M. in the Drappeaux foster home for the first time.  She was placed in and out of the home a number of times until 1986, when she was permanently placed in the home until she graduated from high school in 1992.

In deposition and court records, M.M. testified the abuse began when she was first placed in the home and escalated over time, eventually happening once or twice a week.  Drappeaux threatened to kill her and the other foster children in the home if she told anyone what he was doing to her.  M.M. thought she was protecting other children, but records filed with the court show that Drappeaux abused a number of other foster children who were placed in his care.

M.M.’s lawsuit was not based solely on DSHS licensing a convicted sex offender.  According to Amala, DSHS made an egregious mistake in February 1992 when it received a report that Drappeaux’s step-daughter alleged he had sexually abused her, and that she was concerned for the foster children in his home because he had spent time in jail for having sex with a minor.  But M.M. provided the court with records that suggest DSHS’s investigator closed her investigation when the step-daughter did not return her phone calls.  According to Amala, the lack of action fell far below the standard of care:  “Nothing else was done.  They could have walked a few blocks to the courthouse and pulled his criminal file.  Or they could have at least confronted him or his wife.  Instead, they made a few phone calls and closed their file.  Even their own expert witness testified this was a massive breach of the standard of care.  One of their witnesses testified she was ‘shocked’ at what was done, but she was one of the people that was supposed to have done something.”

Drappeaux kept his license for three more years, until 1995, when DSHS received another report regarding him.  Initially, investigators were prepared to close the investigation, but a supervisor ordered them to continue.  A subsequent FBI check revealed Drappeux had a long criminal history, including the conviction for indecent liberties with a minor.  When pressed to take a lie detector test, Mr. Drappeux turned in his foster license.

Amala says the evidence suggests DSHS and its workers were simply too fond of the Drappeaux foster home and lost their objectivity, particularly as it was one of the few foster homes for Native American children.  “Perhaps the most remarkable fact we discovered is that DSHS awarded Mr. Drappeaux the “Foster Parent of the Year” award in 1995, at the same time that it was conducting a second investigation into allegations that he abused children.”

About the Case

DSHS failed to investigate allegations of abuse reported by a father in mother’s home.  3-year old boy, Michael Kekoa Ravenell, was beaten to death by his mother’s boyfriend, who DSHS failed to learn from its own computer database was a chronic abuser of children.

Michael Ravenell, father of Kekoa Ravenell, and his father

About the Case

In October 2011, the Department of Social and Health Services (“DSHS”) received a report that a man had punched a seven-month-old baby in the face. Despite multiple opportunities to intervene, DSHS instead chose to perform a cursory investigation of the alleged abuse and leave the infant child in the care of his alleged abuser. Ten days later, the baby was rushed to the emergency room at Mary Bridge Hospital by his mother and her boyfriend.  The baby had suffered skull fractures, broken limbs, and retinal hemorrhaging.  Emergency life-saving procedures were required to stop a brain bleed and treat the badly injured baby boy.

In September, 2014, a court appointed advocate for the infant child filed suit against the State of Washington and DSHS arguing that the State negligently failed to protect the infant child from foreseeable harm. Trial commenced in February 2017 and lasted over three weeks. On March 10, 2017, before closing arguments, Plaintiffs settled the case for $1,500,000.

About the Case

From the Seattle Times:

Washington state and a public-employees union have agreed to pay nearly $1 million to settle a sexual-harassment lawsuit stemming from the actions of a former Western State Hospital official accused of abusing at least 15 female employees before he was fired in 2003.

The actions of Barrette Green have now cost the state nearly $3 million — plus attorney’s fees — and prompted the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) to revamp its sexual-harassment policies and training.

The $995,000 settlement announced Monday stems from a case brought by Jackie Delgado of Pierce County. Green is accused of harassing Delgado repeatedly between 1989 and 2003, pressuring her into a sexual relationship and at one point holding an unloaded gun to her head, pulling the trigger and saying “See how easy a person can die?”

The case had been scheduled to go to trial in Pierce County Superior Court next month.

Previously identified in court papers as “Jane Doe III,” Delgado said she decided to go public with her name for the first time to encourage others who suffer workplace harassment to act.

“I’m glad it’s over,” Delgado said in a statement released by her attorney, Darrell Cochran. “I definitely didn’t win — but I got to end it.”

Another hospital employee, Kathleen Lizee, received a $896,000 settlement in 2003, and several other employees received smaller amounts based on claims filed over a boss often known as “The Green Machine.”

Cochran said Green’s case was particularly egregious because while he was habitually abusing employees, he was given a raise and promotion, becoming the hospital’s risk manager.

In addition, Green was accused of using his position as president of a Washington Federation of State Employees union local to threaten and intimidate hospital workers who might complain about him

Jim Stevenson, a spokesman for DSHS, confirmed the settlement, saying DSHS will pay $795,000, with the remainder coming from the state employees union.

“This was a terrible situation,” Stevenson said. “We regret what happened and we hope this settlement will let her put her life back together and go forward.”

He said Western State Hospital’s management has since “gone to great lengths to train people to recognize and report sexual harassment.”

Greg Devereux, executive director of the Washington Federation of State Employees, said the union was not responsible for the allegations against Green. “We didn’t think we had a whole lot of liability, but to go forward with a trial, you could spend a tremendous amount of money.”

Green, who could not be reached for comment, was removed as a defendant in the case several years ago.

“There was nothing more that we could get out of Barrette Green,” Cochran said. “His liability would be covered by the state.” Cochran said the move was partly out of concern for his client’s safety, given that Green had threatened violence in the past.

No criminal charges were brought against Green for his actions at Western State Hospital, though court records in Thurston County indicate he pleaded guilty to an apparently unrelated domestic-violence charge in 2009.

A lawsuit Green brought against the state over his firing was dismissed in 2005 by an appeals board that found that three women had made credible accusations against him.

Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or jbroom@seattletimes.com

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