Bellevue sues school in connection with landslide that wiped out Somerset home

BELLEVUE, Wash. — Another twist in the saga surrounding the Bellevue water main break and landslide that destroyed a home.

The incident knocked the house off its foundation, causing it to partially collapse in Bellevue’s Somerset neighborhood last year. Now, the city of Bellevue is suing a school that owns the property where a troublesome water pipe is located.

The latest lawsuit comes after the family that lost their home, the Surdis, sued Bellevue for damages in June.

The original incident on the morning of Jan. 17, 2022, caused the evacuation of 42 people in the neighborhood amid fears that other homes in the area might be unstable.

>>’I was catapulted out of bed’: Family recounts moments when Bellevue landslide destroyed home

Following the disaster, the city had to demolish the collapsed home and clean up debris in the surrounding area to make the neighborhood safe.

Now Bellevue is blaming Forest Ridge School of the Sacred Heart for the problem and suing to recover demolition and cleanup costs, saying, “The City contends that Forest Ridge is responsible for the events of January 17, 2022.” The school owns the property where the pipe was located.

The city says in 1970, Forest Ridge was responsible for installing the pipe, before the city took over a year or two later. The lawsuit accuses there was “insufficient bedding material … laid below the pipe”.

It also says, “Forest Ridge added significant amounts of non-structural fill on the hillside above the water main”, increasing pressure on the pipe and compromising stability of the hillside.

The city also says that the landslide and material that damaged the Surdi’s home “was comprised primarily, if not exclusively, of the non-structural fill installed by Forest Ridge.”

The Surdi’s attorney, David Bricklin, says their private investigation still finds the city responsible.

“The city has managed and operated that pipe for 50 years, it is the city’s responsibility to make sure that its facilities are operating well,” Bricklin said.

In fact, Bricklin says drawings of the pipe from city records show it was missing a key part where two pieces of pipe connected – which was the spot that failed.

“The city knew they weren’t secured. The city had an engineering standard it imposed on itself to secure pipes like that,” Bricklin said. “They knew the joint didn’t meet their own standards, and they left that dangerous condition on this hillside above the city residents for decades. And the city needs to take responsibility,” Bricklin said.

Homeowner John Surdi says after those findings, they were hopeful the saga would end.

“We saw all the results and I thought, wow, this is a slam dunk. There’s no way that they can not acknowledge that it was their fault,” Surdi said. “They’re just dragging their feet, going slow, using this excuse and that excuse,” he said.

They’re fighting to be compensated for the ordeal but running out of patience – and money.

“A mortgage (on the demolished home) and a rent, and trying to keep my business going. It’s just, it’s awful. It’s awful. But, you know, we got to keep plugging along,” Surdi said.

The City of Bellevue declined to talk on camera about this but said in a statement that it’s “keenly aware of our responsibility as stewards of public dollars,” and that it “feels the school should be brought to the table.” The trial of the Surdis’ lawsuit against the city is scheduled for June.

Forest Ridge School released the following statement regarding the lawsuit:

Forest Ridge School is aware of the lawsuit filed today by the City of Bellevue against Forest Ridge School. Our attorneys are reviewing the lawsuit and we have no comment at this time. We remain committed to working with all parties involved to reach a resolution in this matter.

The statement sent out by the City of the Bellevue in full is below:

The recent work done to excavate and examine the water pipe located above a Somerset home involved in a landslide last January has offered additional information that affects the city’s actions in this matter.

Today, the city filed a lawsuit against Forest Ridge School. The school owns the property where the pipe is located and commissioned the installation of the pipe when the school was built. Results of the site examination suggest large amounts of fill were placed on top of the pipe over the years, adding significant weight and pressure. The City learned that this pipe separated at a joint due to factors outside the City’s control. Through this lawsuit, the City is seeking to recover the costs it spent when it had to remove the Surdi home and clean up the surrounding area in order to return the neighborhood to a safe state after the landslide. In light of the possibility that actions taken by the school could have contributed to the landslide, the City feels the school should be brought to the table as an involved party.

We know the events of January 2022 were devasting to the Surdi family and that the ensuing investigation has been a painstaking process for the family as well. The legal processes now being undertaken are necessary to ensure the correct parties are identified and all the facts are considered.

As a city, we are keenly aware of our responsibility as stewards of public dollars. We want to be sure we have all the necessary information to act in accordance with that accountability to the community. We continue to be committed to working amicably with the school and the Surdi family towards a fair and equitable resolution.

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