Victims of the deadly Christmas Day floods at in San Bernardino County, Calif., have filed claims seeking damages of more than $36.2 million.
The victims allege that the county should have prevented much of the suffering, according to the Press-Enterprise of Riverside, Calif.
Twenty of 51 flood-related claims filed before last week’s deadline already have been rejected, and county officials apparently have no plans to take responsibility for deaths, injuries or any damages related to the untimely December storm.
“It was a horrible tragedy, but that doesn’t mean the taxpayers are responsible,” said county spokesman David Wert.
The claims accuse county officials of neglecting to properly warn the public of the danger of flash floods and mudslides on hillsides left bare from last October’s devastating Old and Grand Prix fires and neglecting to protect threatened property.
Several claims blame the county for the deaths of 15 people killed when torrents of water and mud gushed through Camp St. Sophia in Waterman Canyon and the San Bernardino KOA campground in Devore, Calif.
The flooding claimed the life of Janice Arlene Stout-Bradley, 60, the KOA campground manager, and Carol Eugene Nuss, 57, of Wellington, Kans., a guest at the facility.
“The county was certainly aware of the potential for flooding,” said Dennis Sherwin, a Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.-based attorney representing some of the victims. “They definitely had a responsibility to, at the very least, warn the people who were up there. They issued no warnings.”
Wert said the county was under no legal obligation to warn the public but did so through the media, and, in some areas, went door to door telling residents of the likelihood of mudslides on fire-damaged slopes. He added that county workers notified people at the KOA Campground of the danger.
No county flood channels or basins failed during the storm, Wert said. He noted that the floods originated in the San Bernardino National Forest, which is federal land and therefore not the county’s responsibility.
Among Sherwin’s clients is Teri Clark, who filed a claim for $377,500, blaming the county for failing to warn of the flood threat and for not evacuating the KOA campground. The amount reflects property losses as well as punitive damages, according to the claim. (It was not clear what Clark’s connection to the victims was.)