June 11, 2019
Jury Awards $4M to Woman Ejected from Ride the Ducks Vehicle in 2015 Aurora Bridge Crash
Press Release June 11, 2019, Jury Awards $4M to Woman Ejected from Ride the Ducks Vehicle in 2015 Aurora Bridge Crash (Seattle) — A King County jury awarded $4 million today to an injured woman involved in the September 2015 Duck boat crash on Seattle’s Aurora bridge. Rebecca Rhodes West sued both, Ride the Ducks […]
May 4, 2018
University of Washington settles disability access lawsuit, Agrees to fix campus parking problems
The University of Washington has agreed to correct and remove access barriers for individuals with mobility impairments at 77 of its parking facilities at its Seattle campus in order to settle a lawsuit alleging numerous violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”), according to lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Darrell Cochran, of the law firm Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala.
“We are pleased that the University agreed to address the problems identified in the lawsuit so that Washingtonians with mobility impairments can enjoy the equal and fair access to the University that they deserve and are entitled to under the law,” Cochran said. “These corrections have been required under the law for decades and these improvements are a long time coming.”
The lawsuit was brought by three individuals against the University to correct multiple ADA violations in each of the parking facilities. The violations include hazardous slopes and curb cuts that could cause wheelchair users to tip over and inadequate numbers of accessible parking spaces.
“These individuals were students and patrons of the UW with a great amount of Husky Pride who happened to live with impaired mobility,” Cochran said. “The University’s parking hadn’t been compliant with the ADA for many years, and at the end of the day, many Seattle campus parking facilities were incredibly hard or outright dangerous to use for individuals with mobility impairments.” After this lawsuit was filed, the University gave the issue the attention and priority it deserved, Cochran said.
As a part of the settlement, a federal district court approved a consent decree, which is a way for the plaintiffs and the Court to monitor the improvements and make sure the necessary actions are being taken. The University will correct the accessibility problems over the next 15 years, including major construction and structural changes to some parking facilities.
“We are especially pleased that the University has committed to oversight by and cooperation with the plaintiffs,” Cochran said. “We are proud that we were able to deliver a settlement that gives the individuals most affected by these issues an equal seat at the table and an equal voice in the process of making sure these problems are fixed correctly and completely.”
December 19, 2017
PCVA Establishes Amtrak Victims Relief Fund – DuPont
Tacoma, Washington (Dec. 19, 2017) – PCVA Law, a local law firm with strong ties to the South Sound community, has established the Amtrak Victim’s Relief Fund – DuPont to assist those who have been affected by the recent Amtrak railway accident.
“The Amtrak crash in DuPont is a tragedy in the community in which we live and work, and PCVA considers it both an honor and a community responsibility to help however we can,” Tacoma attorney Darrell Cochran explained. Partnering with another local community leader, Commencement Bank, PCVA pledges $10,000 towards the needs of the victims and families of the DuPont Amtrak accident, with Commencement pledging additional funds.
November 28, 2017
El Gaucho Settles PCVA Class Action Lawsuit
Tacoma, WA, Nov. 28, 2017 – Northwest steakhouse El Gaucho has agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle a class-action lawsuit targeting violations of employee wage and hour laws, according to lead attorney Darrell Cochran, of Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala.
“We are pleased that El Gaucho acknowledged and agreed to address the problems identified in the lawsuit, so that its employees are being fairly compensated,” Cochran said.
The lawsuit was brought by a former server against El Gaucho and its management group MacKay Restaurant Management Group to correct unlawful wage practices in its Tacoma, Seattle and Bellevue restaurants that are believed to be common in the food industry.
“These employees took a lot of pride in their jobs and in being a part of El Gaucho,” Cochran said. “But the company wasn’t paying overtime correctly.” The lawsuit also alleged that El Gaucho was withholding tips and gave gift cards in lieu of pay.
“At the end of the day, employees were bringing home less money, and, in some cases, workers were making less than minimum wage,” Cochran said.
A Pierce County court granted preliminary approval of the class action settlement. Now, notification will go out to the estimated 400 current and former employees involved in the suit. The settlement covers compensation to the affected employees for the wage and hour violations, unpaid rest and meal breaks, improper tip pool distributions and violations of Washington’s automatic service charge requirements.
“Hardworking employees rely on tips and overtime to make ends meet,” Cochran said. “We are proud that we were able to deliver a settlement that corrects these practices and puts money back in employees’ pockets.”
October 3, 2017
Backpage.com Settles Sex Trafficking Lawsuit
The website Backpage.com has settled a sex trafficking lawsuit brought by three girls who alleged they were sold for sex in the “escort” section of the website. Trial in the case was scheduled to begin next week in Pierce County, Washington.
Filed in 2012, the plaintiffs alleged they were between 13 and 15 years old when they were advertised for sex on Backpage.com. Each of the plaintiffs claimed a sex trafficker paid Backpage.com a small fee to post their sex ads in the “escort” section of the website.
In their complaint, the plaintiffs alleged the website should be held liable because it “knowingly developed a nationwide online marketplace for illicit commercial sex” and did so “because of the millions of dollars that they generated from the website every month.” The plaintiffs claimed the website had a practice of “altering ads before publication by deleting words, phrases, and images indicative of criminality” and then “publishing the ‘sanitized ads’ for a fee.”
The lawsuit was the first in the country to defeat the website’s argument that it is immune from sex trafficking lawsuits under the Communications Decency Act. Passed in the mid-1990s to promote the growth of the internet, the CDA gives websites immunity from lawsuits for content posted by third parties. Both the trial court and the Washington Supreme Court rejected the website’s argument that the CDA protected it from the plaintiffs’ allegations.
Erik Bauer, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, said he could not discuss the settlement because it is confidential: “I cannot discuss the terms of the settlement because it is confidential. We settled on mutually agreeable terms and our clients are pleased with the result.”
The lawsuit featured prominently in a recent documentary about online sex trafficking. Titled “I Am Jane Doe,” the documentary premiered earlier this year and chronicles lawsuits by multiple families to hold Backpage.com liable for alleged sex trafficking of minors. All but the Washington case were dismissed because of the CDA.
Bauer’s co-counsel, Seattle attorney Michael Pfau, says the plaintiffs uncovered evidence that the website intended to promote sex trafficking, not prevent it: “Backpage tried to have our case thrown out by claiming it was immune under the CDA. They went so far as to claim they had a system for preventing sex trafficking of minors. The Washington courts were the first in the country to rule that we should have a chance to test what the website was claiming. In the end, we believe we showed their system was designed to promote sex trafficking, not prevent it.”
Jason Amala, another attorney for the plaintiffs, said the company could not explain how their system helped to protect children: “A number of their top executives refused to answer nearly all of our questions and invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Even their in-house lawyer could not explain how removing terms like ‘amber alert’ or ‘lolita’ helps to fight child sex trafficking. In our view, they were just sanitizing sex ads to reduce the chances that they would have to remove the ads and make less money.”
On January 9, 2017, Backpage.com shut down the “escort” section hours after the United States Senate issued a scathing report about the company’s alleged role in online sex trafficking. According to the Senate report, the website generated $135 million in revenue in 2014, and the vast majority of that revenue was from sex ads. The website claimed the “escort” section was shut down due to allegations of “censorship” by the United States government.
The attorneys are shifting their focus to other lawsuits they have helped file against the website, including two more cases in Washington, one in California, and one in Texas. The lawsuits include allegations based on evidence obtained in the Washington case that settled.
For example, one of the complaints alleges that Backpage.com’s CEO, Carl Ferrer, sent an email where he said it would be “too harsh” to ban advertisements that contained words or images that indicated the ad was for sex. Instead, Ferrer allegedly said it was “[b]etter to edit by removing bad text or removing bad language” so that users could “adjust.” The complaint cites the email as evidence that the website intentionally sanitized sex ads so that it could profit from the ads.
Bauer believes many more sex trafficking survivors are likely to come forward: “Thousands of children have been sold for sex on that website. They are starting to come forward as they realize people support them, not those who profit from sex trafficking.”
Two bills have been proposed in Congress in response to the attention generated by the Washington case, the Senate report, and “I Am Jane Doe.” Both bills state that the CDA does not provide immunity to entities that knowingly promote sex trafficking.
Amala welcomes the clarity and hopes tech companies will join the current dialogue: “This law is more than 20 years old and was passed when people were still using AOL to access the internet. We need the tech companies to tell Congress they will continue to prosper even if steps are taken to hold sex traffickers accountable. They’ve been virtually silent, or worse, the advocacy groups they fund have sided with Backpage.com and sex traffickers.”
To date, Oracle, 21st Century Fox, and Hewlett Packard are the only major tech companies to support the pending legislation. Other companies, like Google, have criticized the bill. Google’s vice president of public policy, Susan Molinari, called the proposed legislation a “disaster” while at the same time saying “Backpage.com can and should be held accountable for its crimes.”
Amala says Google and others can’t have it both ways: “Google is speaking out both sides of its mouth. You can’t say you are against child sex trafficking at the same time you are lobbying against a law to prevent it. If Google wants to help stop sex trafficking then Ms. Molinari should spend her ‘20% time’ on helping us figure out a solution. Just saying ‘no’ doesn’t do anything to help the thousands of women and children being trafficked every day.”
The following cases remain pending against Backpage.com:
Washington: The Washington lawsuit was filed on behalf of two teenage girls who are identified as R.O. and K.M. R.O. alleges she was 14 to 15 years old, and K.M. alleges she was 16 years old, when they were sold for sex on the website. Each girl alleges she was sold for sex in the greater Seattle area. R.O. alleges her ads appeared on the website from October 2014 until December 2015. K.M. alleges her ads appeared in early 2015. Both girls allege they were repeatedly sexually abused as a result of being advertised for sex on the website.
California: The California lawsuit was filed on behalf of a teenage girl who the complaint identifies as “Jane Doe.” Jane Doe alleges she was 15 years old when she was sold for sex on the website. Jane Doe alleges she was sold for sex in Riverside County, California. Jane Doe alleges her ads appeared on the website for weeks in August 2015. Jane Doe alleges she was repeatedly sexually abused as a result of being advertised for sex on the website.
Texas: The Texas lawsuit was filed on behalf of a teenage girl who identified as “J.M.” In her complaint, J.M. alleges she was 15 to 16 years old when she was sold for sex on the website. J.M. alleges she was sold for sex in Hawaii, but filed suit in Texas because Dallas, Texas, was the principal place of business for the website during the time she was abused. In October 2016, authorities raided the Dallas offices of the website after its CEO, Carl Ferrer, was arrested. J.M. alleges her ads appeared on the website from March 2015 through September 2015. J.M. alleges she was repeatedly sexually abused as a result of being advertised for sex on the website.
September 25, 2017
Seattle Archdiocese Pays $1.3 Million to Settle Sexual Abuse Lawsuit
The Seattle Archdiocese has paid $1.3 million to settle the claim of a man who alleges he was sexually abused in the early 1980s by Edward Courtney, a former teacher and principal at two schools in the Archdiocese’s private school system.
The plaintiff, identified as “M.R.” in court pleadings in order to protect his identity, alleged he was abused by Courtney between 1981 and 1982. At the time, M.R. was a student at Parkland Elementary, a public grade school outside of Tacoma, and Courtney was his teacher.
In his lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court, M.R. claimed the Seattle Archdiocese was liable for the abuse he suffered because it allegedly knew Courtney posed a danger to students after he was removed from two Archdiocesan schools for abusing children. Rather than report Courtney to law enforcement, M.R. alleged the Archdiocese covered-up Courtney’s abuse of children and helped him obtain employment in the public school system.
M.R. alleged Courtney served as a teacher, coach, and administrator at O’Dea High School from 1974 to 1978. During that time period, M.R. claimed the Archdiocese received multiple complaints that Courtney was abusing children. For example, shortly after arriving at O’Dea, M.R. alleged the school principal, the school vice principal, and a teacher met to discuss an allegation that Courtney had molested a student. When asked why he did not warn students or parents about Courtney, M.R.’s lawsuit claims the former teacher testified “it wasn’t my job to warn the people about Ed Courtney.”
Rather than report Courtney to the authorities, M.R. alleged the Archdiocese helped Courtney obtain his master’s in teaching administration and then hired him as the principal of St. Alphonsus Parish School, a grade school in the Ballard area of Seattle. M.R. claims that Courtney abused at least a half-dozen children at St. Alphonsus, and that he had to resign after just one year because of abuse allegations. M.R. claims the pastor responded in a letter that he decided to accept Courtney’s resignation after consulting with the superintendent of the Archdiocese’s private school system and the Archdiocese’s in-house lawyer: “To alter that course would be to run the very real risk of turning this situation into a cause célèbre thereby doing damage to your name and reputation and that of the school.
M.R. alleged the Archdiocese should have reported Courtney to the authorities and taken steps to revoke his Washington state teaching certificate. Instead, he claims the Archdiocese verified Courtney’s teaching certificate, which allowed him to continue teaching, and wrote him glowing letters of recommendation.
According to M.R.’s complaint, the very next school year Courtney was hired as a teacher at Parkland Elementary, a now-closed grade school outside of Tacoma. M.R. claimed that Courtney used his position as a teacher at Parkland to groom him and to sexually abuse him.
M.R. is not the only former student to allege he was abused at Parkland Elementary. While M.R.’s case was pending, another student, identified as D.W., came forward and claimed that he was abused during some of the same time period as M.R. In court papers, D.W. testified that he and his mother complained to the Parkland principal and that Courtney was fired a short time later. D.W. has filed his own pending lawsuit against the Archdiocese.
M.R. wants other abuse survivors to know that they are not alone: “I had no clue about Courtney’s history until I did a Google search for his name. I want other abuse survivors to know that they are not alone, and there are ways they can try to get answers. This process has been healing for me and for the first time in my life I feel like I am starting to get closure.”
M.R. was represented by Michael T. Pfau and Jason P. Amala of Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala PLLC. According to Amala, the Archdiocese’s efforts to help Courtney continue teaching is uncommon: “Our law firm has represented hundreds of abuse survivors, but I cannot think of another case where the defendant removed a known abuser from their private school system and then actively helped them get a job in the public school system.”
Amala believes M.R.’s case is a reminder that people should keep an open mind when abuse survivors come forward: “I think most people would be skeptical if you told them that a pastor, a superintendent, and an in-house lawyer all agreed to keep child abuse quiet in order to protect a school’s reputation. But there it is, spelled out in documents that we were able to obtain because M.R. and other abuse survivors had the courage to come forward. This case is a good reminder why people should keep an open mind and let the legal process uncover the truth.”
Pfau believes there are likely more Courtney survivors in the public school system: “Courtney was a prolific abuser of children in private Catholic schools, but I would be surprised if there were not more victims in the public school system. They had no idea what they were dealing with.”
September 18, 2017
Everett School District Under Fire Again for Sexual Abuse by a Teacher
Seattle attorneys Darrell Cochran and Kevin Hastings have filed a complaint on behalf of a second victim of Everett School District teacher Craig Verver. Mr. Verver is accused of having a sexual relationship with a student at Cascade High School in Everett. The student, identified by her initials, A.G., was groomed by Mr. Verver, using his position of power to do so, leading to an ongoing sexual relationship.
Everett School District failed to protect our client from Mr. Verver’s grooming and sexual abuse. This is not the first lawsuit against the Everett School District for sexual abuse by Mr. Verver. PCVA represents A.T. in a similar lawsuit that is currently ongoing.
If you can provide additional information about Mr. Verver or the Everett School District’s knowledge of Mr. Verver’s actions, we ask you to please contact us.
To read the complaint filed today, click here: A.G. v. Everett School District – Sexual Abuse Complaint – PCVA.law
March 21, 2017
State Pays Nearly $2 Million to All Hours Daycare Survivors
Four children sexually assaulted at a Marysville daycare have settled a lawsuit with the State of Washington for nearly $2 million. The $1.87 million settlement is believed to be one of the largest ever paid by the State’s Department of Early Learning. The suit accused the State agency of failing to properly investigate the personal and work history of the owner, Anne Ladale Moore, in Idaho before granting her a daycare license in Washington. Law enforcement investigators received reports that Moore’s 18-year-old son, Dakota Wilson, had been sexually assaulting children in Moore’s All Hours Daycare, and the daycare shut its doors soon after. In September 2011, Snohomish County prosecutors charged Wilson with two counts of first-degree child molestation and one count of first-degree child rape. He ultimately pleaded guilty to lesser charges of assault.
According to the lawsuit, Wilson had been accused of sexually abusing daycare children at Moore’s previous daycare in Idaho back in 2004. Other abuse and neglect allegations against Moore’s daycare were also substantiated by Idaho CPS investigators. Moore closed the business in Boise and then moved across the border, eventually setting up All Hours Daycare in Snohomish County in 2008.
“Moore’s daycare in Idaho had major violations which should have sent up unmistakable red flags and prevented All Hours Daycare from ever opening in this state,” said one of the children’s attorney’s, Mike Pfau of Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala PLLC. Pfau said that all of the Idaho records detailing a list of various problems with Moore’s business including Wilson’s past sexual abuse were available to the Department of Early Learning employees had they only followed up. “Washington licensors really dropped the ball,” Pfau said.
The lawsuit also alleged that in addition to negligently licensing the daycare, the State failed to properly investigate a number of complaints in Washington about the All Hours facility. Complaints of improperly restraining children, inadequate supervision, and inappropriate behaviors in Moore’s daycare went largely unaddressed by State licensors. Plaintiffs’ attorney Brad Fulton of Carter & Fulton said that in one instance, Moore’s ex-husband, who was listed as one of All Hours’ child care providers, went into profanity-laced tirades against daycare children, prompting parents to complain.
March 6, 2017
New Child Sexual Abuse Lawsuit Filed Against the Archdiocese of Agana and the Boy Scouts of America
The lawsuit is the first lawsuit filed against the Boy Scouts of America, the first lawsuit filed by an abuse survivor who alleges he complained about the abuse to the Archdiocese, and the first lawsuit filed by an abuse survivor who is jointly represented by a law firm from Guam and from the mainland.
A new sexual abuse lawsuit was filed today against the Archdiocese of Agana, the Boy Scouts of America, and Father Louis Brouillard, a former priest who served within the Archdiocese.
The plaintiff, Anthony “Tony” Flores, alleges he was sexually abused by Father Brouillard in the late 1970s when Mr. Flores and his family were parishioners at San Vicente Ferrer Catholic Church in Barrigada, Guam.
Mr. Flores alleges that he was an altar boy and parish Boy Scout when Brouillard used his position as a Catholic priest and Boy Scout leader to sexually abuse him. He alleges that Brouillard abused him multiple times in multiple occasions, including at an annual Boy Scout Jamboree. Mr. Flores claims he was approximately sixteen years old at the time of the alleged abuse.
Out of the recent cases filed against the Archdiocese, Mr. Flores is the first plaintiff to allege that he complained to the Archdiocese about the abuse by Father Brouillard but nothing was done. Mr. Flores alleges that he told Monsignor Zoilo Camacho that Father Brouillard was sexually abusing children at San Vicente Ferrer parish, but Monsignor Camacho did nothing in response. Instead, Mr. Flores alleges that Monsignor Camacho “snapped at him” and told him to “be quiet and get out of my office.”
January 25, 2017
Backpage.com and its Executives Named in Four New Lawsuits in Washington, California, Texas, and Alabama
The lawsuits are believed to be the first cases in the country where the company’s CEO and owners are named as defendants.
Four new lawsuits were filed today against the owners and operators of www.backpage.com, including the company’s CEO, Carl Ferrer, and two of the website’s long-time owners, James Larkin and Michael Lacey.
Washington complaint: R.O. v. Medalist Holdings, L.L.C., et. al, filed on January 25, 2017
California complaint: Jane Doe v. Medalist Holdings, L.L.C., et. al, filed on January 25, 2017
Texas complaint: Jane Doe v. Medalist Holdings, L.L.C., et. al, filed on January 25, 2017
Alabama Complaint: K.R. v. Medalist Holdings, L.L.C., et. al, filed on January 25, 2017
Watch: Backpage.com Executives Plead Fifth Amendment in Response to Senate Questions (January 10, 2017)
United State Senate Report, “Backpage.com’s Knowing Facilitation of Online Sex Trafficking,” published January 9, 2017
Appendix to U.S. Senate Report (contains evidence cited by the Report), published on January 9, 2017
Washington Supreme Court Decision Rejecting Backpage.com’s CDA Argument, published September 3, 2015
Testimony from Former Backpage.com Employee Saying His Job Was to Sanitize Sex Ads, taken on August 2, 2016
October 2010 Email from Carl Ferrer Stating Removing Sex Ads ‘Too Harsh’
Backpage.com CEO Carl Ferrer Helps ‘Urban Pimp’ Post His Sex Ads (email sent on November 9, 2007)
The plaintiffs in each lawsuit allege they were teenager girls when they were sold for sex on the website by sex traffickers. Two plaintiffs jointly filed suit in Washington, one plaintiff filed suit in California, one plaintiff filed suit in Texas, and one plaintiff filed suit in Alabama.
Jason P. Amala, a Seattle attorney who jointly represents four of the five girls, believes the four lawsuits are the first civil claims to be filed against Ferrer, Larkin and Lacey. In the lawsuits, the girls allege that Ferrer, Larkin, and Lacey are liable because they knew they were profiting from illegal sex trafficking. On Tuesday, the three men appeared in court in California in response to 39 criminal counts for allegedly facilitating prostitution and sex trafficking.
Amala believes the lawsuits are the first cases to be filed since January 9, 2017, when the company purported to shut down the “escort” section of its website due to “censorship” by the United States government. The “escort” section was shuttered within hours after the United States Senate issued a scathing report about the company’s alleged role in online sex trafficking.
The next day, Ferrer, Larkin, and Lacey appeared before a panel of U.S. Senators and refused to answer any questions. Instead, each invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The men were joined by the website’s Chief Operating Officer, Andrew Padilla, and corporate counsel, Elizabeth McDougal, who also refused to testify and invoked the Fifth Amendment.
The defendants named in the lawsuits include a number of U.S. and foreign companies that were allegedly involved in running the website or were used to conceal its profits. Some of the lawsuits allege the companies are liable because they profited from the website “even though [they] knew those profits were derived from illegal conduct.”
In response to prior lawsuits, the website has asserted it is immune from suit under a federal law known as the Communications Decency Act (“CDA”). The CDA provides websites immunity from suit for content posted by third parties so long as the website does not help create or develop the content. Websites also have immunity if they edit content, but only if the content is edited in good faith.
According to Amala, the four lawsuits are being filed now because of the Senate report: “For years the website has publicly claimed they were trying to remove sex ads. That was the company line, but the Senate report shows that was not true. The report details how the website, at the direction of its top executives, was systematically editing sex ads to make it less obvious that they were for sex. They then posted the sanitized sex ad for a fee and kept the profits.”
Some of the complaints cite internal company emails that the plaintiffs claim support their allegations. In one, Ferrer said it would be “too harsh” to ban advertisements that contained words or images that indicated the ad was for sex. Instead, Ferrer said it was “[b]etter to edit by removing bad text or removing bad language” so that users could “adjust.”
The complaints also quote from deposition testimony that Amala obtained from a former employee of backpage.com. In his deposition, the former employee agreed that his job was “to basically sanitize ads for prostitution.” The complaints allege that the employee “would then post the sanitized ad, even though he knew the ad was a person who was trying to sell sex for money.”
The plaintiffs allege they were advertised on the website at various times between 2013 and late 2015. According to the Senate report, www.backpage.com generated $135 million in revenue in 2014, and the vast majority of that revenue was from sex ads.
Washington: The Washington lawsuit was filed on behalf of two teenage girls who are identified as R.O. and K.M. R.O. alleges she was 14 to 15 years old, and K.M. alleges she was 16 years old, when they were sold for sex on the website. Each girls alleges she was sold for sex in the greater Seattle area. R.O. alleges her ads appeared on the website from October 2014 until December 2015. K.M. alleges her ads appeared in early 2015. Both girls allege they were repeatedly sexually abused as a result of being advertised for sex on the website.
California: The California lawsuit was filed on behalf of a teenage girl who the complaint identifies as “Jane Doe.” Jane Doe alleges she was 15 years old when she was sold for sex on the website. Jane Doe alleges she was sold for sex in Riverside County, California. Jane Doe alleges her ads appeared on the website for weeks in August 2015. Jane Doe alleges she was repeatedly sexually abused as a result of being advertised for sex on the website.
Texas: The Texas lawsuit was filed on behalf of a teenage girl who identified as “J.M.” In her complaint, J.M. alleges she was 15 to 16 years old when she was sold for sex on the website. J.M. alleges she was sold for sex in Hawaii but filed suit in Texas because Dallas, Texas, was the principal place of business for the website during the time she was abused. In October 2016, authorities raided the Dallas offices of the website after its CEO, Carl Ferrer, was arrested. J.M. alleges her ads appeared on the website from March 2015 through September 2015. J.M. alleges she was repeatedly sexually abused as a result of being advertised for sex on the website.
Alabama: The Alabama lawsuit was filed on behalf of a woman identified as “K.R.” In her complaint, K.R. alleges she was 17 years old when she was sold for sex on the website. K.R. alleges she was sold for sex in Houston County, Alabama. K.R. alleges her ads appeared on the website between May 2013 and August 2013. K.R. alleges she was repeatedly sexually abused as a result of being advertised on the website.
The four lawsuits are not the first lawsuits to be filed against the website. In 2012, Amala and his law firm, in conjunction with Tacoma lawyer Erik Bauer, filed a separate lawsuit in Washington on behalf of three minor girls who allege they were sold for sex on the website in 2010. The website moved to dismiss the case, citing the CDA, but the trial court denied the motion. In October 2015, the Washington Supreme Court upheld the trial court’s decision and concluded the plaintiffs should be allowed to move forward with their case so they could try to prove their allegations that the website was actively involved in editing their ads. That case is currently scheduled to begin trial in Pierce County, Washington, in May 2017.
Amala believes these are important test cases regarding the CDA: “I am proud of our clients for standing up for themselves and for thousands of other women and children who were trafficked for sex through this website. The website has gone to great lengths to conceal its involvement in sex trafficking, but the truth is finally coming out. Congress did not intend to give immunity to a website that created an online marketplace for sex trafficking, let alone a website that actively sanitized sex ads under the cover of trying to prevent sex trafficking.”
October 7, 2016
Backpage.com CEO Arrested Over Sex Trafficking Allegations
(San Francisco) — After a three-year criminal investigation, state prosecutors in California have brought criminal charges against the CEO, Carl Ferrer, and two owners of the website Backpage.com, alleging they were complicit in sex trafficking crimes.
The company also finds itself embattled in civil litigation brought by three minors who were trafficked for sex on the website when they were young teens in 2010. The girls are jointly represented by our law firm and Erik Bauer, a Tacoma attorney. Last year, the Washington State Supreme Court upheld a trial court’s order that the three girls could move forward with their allegations that Backpage knowingly created an online marketplace for sex trafficking and then helped traffickers create their ads for sex.
Carl Ferrer’s arrest comes on the heels of a Pierce County Superior Court judge ordering Mr. Ferrer to produce personal email records relating to his involvement with the website’s “Escort” section, which the plaintiffs allege is blatant online sex trafficking and prostitution.
March 24, 2016
Seattle Archdiocese Settles Eight Sexual Abuse Cases For $9,150,000
(Mt. Vernon, Bellingham, Seattle) — The Seattle Archdiocese has paid $9,150,000 to settle the claims of eight women who were sexually abused as young girls by parish priest Father Michael Cody. Documentary evidence demonstrates that the Archdiocese knew that Cody was a pedophile and that he was a danger to young people well before the abuse of these women occurred.
Cody sexually abused six of the women while he was assigned to St. Charles Parish in Burlington, Washington from 1968 to 1972, and the other two while he was assigned to Assumption Parish in Bellingham, Washington from 1972 to 1975.
During a trial last year of Jeri Hubbard, who was abused by Cody in Skagit County in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Seattle Archdiocese admitted it acted in an outrageous manner and caused Hubbard serious injuries. In 1962 the then Seattle archbishop had received a letter from a psychiatrist stating that Cody had sexually abused young girls and diagnosing him as a pedophile. Subsequent letters from other priests repeatedly warned the archbishop of Cody’s dangerous propensities. The archbishop then transferred Cody from King to Skagit County where he abused Hubbard. The Archdiocese settled with Hubbard for 1.2 million dollars the day before the jury was scheduled to begin deliberations.
February 18, 2016
PCVA Lawsuit Forces Error 53 Fix
SEATTLE, WA – Apple released an operating system update today that it claims will fix a catastrophic error that left thousands of customers’ iPhones useless. This announcement comes one week after PCVA filed a class action lawsuit over this defect, commonly known as “Error 53”. Apple also announced plans to compensate customers who purchased replacements for their inoperable or “bricked” phones.
“Our lawsuit has accomplished goal number one: to get Apple to create an immediate solution for people whose phones were bricked by Error 53,” said Darrell Cochran, PCVA’s lead attorney for the class action suit. “We’re going to make sure that Apple follows through with its promises, but we appreciate that the company says it’s going to solve this problem and compensate its customers who were victimized by it. That’s good business.”
February 11, 2016
PCVA Files Class-Action Lawsuit Against Apple For “Error 53” Issue
SEATTLE, WA – Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala PLLC (PCVA), a nationally respected trial law firm, filed a class-action lawsuit against Apple, Inc. in federal court today in response to Apple’s “Error 53” iPhone controversy.
Apple has been under fire for its policy of permanently disabling (a practice referred to as “bricking”) iPhone 6 and 6 Plus units that have had their fingerprint sensors damaged or had hardware replaced by third-party repair stores. The phones are bricked after users install a phone update. Once bricked the phone is essentially useless. “Error 53” refers to the message displayed to users who are no longer able to use their phones after installing the update.
“The first objective is to get all the affected iPhone customers re-outfitted with working phones, and without the overwhelming costs that thousands of people are facing right now with error 53 codes and bricked phones,” said Darrell Cochran, lead attorney for the class action lawsuit. “That will provide immediate relief to the consumers and, in the end, it will also help Apple,” Cochran said.
Apple representatives have claimed the policy of disabling phones was a security measure to protect users from having their personal data compromised. But PCVA attorney Cochran doesn’t buy into Apple’s security safeguard explanations.
“If security was the primary concern, then why did the phones work just fine, sometimes for several months, without the software update,” Cochran asked. “Error 53 only rears its ugly head when downloading a newer version of Apple’s operating system.”
January 19, 2016
Accident Victim Files Suit Against Grays Harbor Community Hospital
The victim of a bus accident in Montesano in 2013 has filed a lawsuit against Grays Harbor Community Hospital and several individuals associated with a collections company over the use of medical liens to recover costs associated with treating her. And her attorneys have asked for “class action” status, meaning people in similar circumstances could join the suit.
The case, filed in Grays Harbor Superior Court on Tuesday, focuses on the practices of California-based collections company Hunter Donaldson, which was recently at the center of a legal battle involving Multicare Health System, based in Tacoma.
In the Multicare suit, Hunter Donaldson was accused of improperly filing medical liens, using a notary public who was improperly certified in the state of Washington. In addition, a Multicare executive was accused of helping the Hunter Donaldson employee fraudulently obtain notary certification in the state, even though she lived and worked in California. Liens, which must be filed with the county, are required to be notarized.
January 15, 2016
Seattle Archdiocese Publishes List of 77 Individuals Subject to Allegations of Child Abuse
(Seattle) — For the first time, the Seattle Archdiocese has published a comprehensive list of priests and other religious individuals who have served in the Archdiocese and have been the subject of allegations of child sexual abuse. The list includes each individual’s name, their assignments within the Archdiocese, and their dates of service. 77 individuals are named.
The list states that it is a “list of clergy and religious brothers and sisters for whom allegations of sexual abuse of a minor have been admitted, established or determined to be credible,” and that each person on the list has “either served or resided in the Archdiocese of Seattle.”
September 21, 2015
Lawsuit Accuses Youth Soccer Coach of Sexually Abusing Former Player
A former Thurston County woman has filed and served a lawsuit that accuses a youth soccer coach of sexually exploiting her, eventually engaging her in sexual intercourse, when she was a 17-year-old player. The woman, identified only by the initials B.W., alleges that former St. Martin’s University Men’s Soccer and Black Hills Football Club Coach David E. Cross began grooming her at age 13 and ultimately engaged in sex acts with the then-minor player multiple times, including before soccer try-outs and on trips with the team. The lawsuit names the youth league B.W. played in, Black Hills Football Club, as well as Cross and his wife, as defendants.
The suit, filed by Tacoma attorneys Darrell Cochran and Kevin Hastings on behalf of B.W., states that B.W. was a member of the Black Hills Football Club’s “A” team coached by Cross. Cross occasionally texted his favorite soccer players, but by January 2009, Cross was texting B.W. frequently. The texts started as mentoring messages but moved to personal questions about B.W.’s sexual experience with boys. Texting then turned into in-person encounters and culminated in sexual intercourse.
September 3, 2015
Backpage Loses In Washington’s Supreme Court
Backpage.com’s highly lucrative online sex advertising business suffered a devastating legal defeat in Washington State today. In a ruling that could have a profound impact on websites that promote illegal services, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that three minor girls who allege they were trafficked for sex on Backpage can move forward with their case against the website.
In 2012, the three girls filed suit in Pierce County, Washington, against Backpage and its parent company at the time, Village Voice Media Holdings, L.L.C. Their lawsuit alleges they were advertised for sex on the website and subsequently forced into child prostitution. At the time, two of the girls were in the seventh grade and one was in the ninth grade. Each had run away from home when they claim they were advertised and exploited through Backpage. One of the girls alleges she was forced to have sex approximately 20 times on a daily basis. In the past, Backpage and others have been successful at getting similar cases dismissed by claiming immunity under the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (“CDA”).
But in the majority opinion upholding an earlier decision by a trial judge, Washington Supreme Court Justice Steven C. Gonzalez wrote that this suit seeks to show that Backpage is more than just host for other people’s postings. Instead, Gonzalez stated that the girls “have been the repeated victims of horrific acts committed in the shadows of the law,” and that “[t]hey brought this suit in part to bring light to some of those shadows: to show how children are bought and sold for sexual services online on Backpage.com in advertisements that, they allege, the defendants help develop.”
Erik Bauer, a Tacoma attorney who represents the girls, believes the Court’s decision signals trouble for the website: “Backpage has claimed to the press and to the courts that it has some sort of system to prevent this illegal conduct, but its claims are defied by a few mouse clicks that show thousands and thousands of prostitution ads around the country. Almost every single advertisement is clearly for prostitution, yet Backpage and its lawyers claim the company is at the forefront of fighting prostitution. The Court today saw right through their smoke and mirrors.”
According to Jason P. Amala, a Seattle lawyer who jointly represents the girls with Bauer, the Court’s decision reflects the girls’ assertions that Congress never intended to give immunity to websites like Backpage.com. “The Washington Supreme Court today recognized that companies like Backpage.com cannot knowingly profit from sex trafficking just because they are a website. Congress never intended for the CDA to grant that sort of protection to websites.”
The girls’ lawsuit alleges Backpage knowingly created an online marketplace for sex trafficking, and then instituted “posting rules” to help sex traffickers develop their ads in a way that would evade law enforcement and promote prostitution. “Backpage.com developed these content requirements because it knows these methods will assist pimps and prostitutes in avoiding detection so that Backpage.com can continue profiting from their illegal activities,” the suit states. The lawsuit also states that Backpage profited from each ad, and that the site is the largest source of online sex trafficking in the country.
Amala’s law partner, Michael T. Pfau, takes issue with the company’s claim that it tries to protect children: “We allege the company knew for a long time that it was helping people advertise children for sex. The defendant’s lawyers and spokespeople want to talk about what it is supposedly doing now to protect children, but this lawsuit is focused on what it was doing before all of the public scrutiny. If Backpage genuinely wants to protect children, why did it hire lawyers to try to overturn a law that seeks to protect children?”
July 24, 2015
Darrell L. Cochran Named 2015 Trial Lawyer Of The Year
Tacoma attorney Darrell Cochran was named Trial Lawyer of the Year on Friday by the Washington State Association for Justice (WSAJ). Cochran is managing partner of Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala, PLLC. The award, named after the late Washington Supreme Court Justice Tom Chambers, honors “a lawyer who advances the art and skill of advocacy, either in trial or by training others so as to benefit humankind,” according the WSAJ.
“I’ve been really lucky to have worked for years alongside great partners and supporting staff, and the award tells us that we’ve managed to make a lasting, positive impact with the job we are doing,” Cochran said after receiving the award. “I’ve made a career out of the thing I love to do most; fight “to give a voice to the folks who would otherwise suffer silently.” Cochran grew up in Olympia, went to Olympia High School and has been an attorney practicing primarily out of the Puget Sound region since 1993.
Cochran made headlines earlier this year as lead counsel in a class-action case against MultiCare Health System and a California collection agency MultiCare hired, Hunter Donaldson. The case involved improper liens placed by Hunter Donaldson on MultiCare patients’ court settlements after they were injured due to another person’s negligence. Hunter Donaldson was not registered as a collection agency with the state and was using a fraudulent notary to file its liens with the county recorder’s office. A Pierce County judge approved a $7.5 million settlement with MultiCare and the patients affected by the improper medical services liens back in January.
The lawsuit, and the circumstances surrounding the suit, lead the Washington State Legislature to enact a bill this year which requires collection agencies to be licensed by the state before attempting to collect on medical services liens on behalf of healthcare providers. The law also requires full disclosure if medical services liens are used and mandates that a written release of lien rights be delivered to the patient when the medical bill is paid.
Also this year, Cochran received a win from the state Court of Appeals when it upheld a nearly $1.5 million jury verdict on appeal against the Olympia School District for failing to protect a student from being molested by one of the district’s school bus drivers, Gary Shafer. Since the initial lawsuit, Cochran has filed five others against the district, including the latest in January involving a special needs student who was also sexually assaulted by Shafer.
February 3, 2015
Abuse Survivor Settles with DSHS for $2,500,000
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.”
January 30, 2015
Supplemental Budget Passes, DSHS Lawsuit Win
KOMO News released a story yesterday stating that the Statehouse has passed an unusual supplemental budget to deal with several issues, including a lawsuit that PCVA and our partners in the case, Livengood Alskog, brought against the Department of Social and Health Services. We took that case to trial in December 2010 and won a verdict of over $57,000,000. As the article states, interest accrues at a rate of roughly $20,000 per day, so paying it off now is “better than waiting months…” The text of the article by AP reporter Derrick Nunnally is below:
OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) – The Washington state House on Thursday agreed to spend nearly $300 million on a supplemental budget for expenses from last year’s wildfires and the deadly Oso landslide to social-services spending on child abuse and mental-health cases.
The supplemental budget bill passed the Democratic-controlled House on a bipartisan 83-15 vote. It now moves to the Senate, where Republicans lead the majority caucus, before going to Gov. Jay Inslee for approval. The money will cover a range of state programs, with the largest share going toward expenses from responding to natural disasters, including the mudslide and multiple wildfires in the eastern half of the state last summer.
“It’s a little unusual to do a supplemental budget this early in a legislative session, but last year was an unusual year,” Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said in a prepared statement.
Other money in the bill addresses lawsuits the state lost last year over the treatment of mentally ill patients and in-home care workers. The amount to pay off the caregiver lawsuit grows by $20,000 in interest each day, several lawmakers noted, which makes paying it off now better than waiting months for the Legislature to approve its full two-year budget later in the legislative session.
“We know we’re going to pay it in two to three months anyway,” said Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger, who voted for the bill.
Rep. David Taylor, R-Moxee, voted against it and said the money to combat wildfires didn’t properly address a “complete and utter lack of management of public lands” that caused the fires to be so damaging.
“We’re doing nothing to take care of the issue,” Taylor said. “We’re just throwing more money at it, over and over.”
The same bill also moves up this year’s deadline for the state’s economic and revenue forecast to Feb. 20 in hopes of expediting a budget agreement in a year where lawmakers are trying to address a projected shortfall of more than $2 billion.
October 17, 2014
WA Supreme Court To Rule On Backpage’s Claim Of Immunity
Backpage.com is generally considered the largest source of sex trafficking in the United States. We represent a number of girls who allege the company is liable for creating an online marketplace for sex trafficking and then helping traffickers post ads for sex and evade law enforcement.
For its part, Backpage.com asserts that it is immune from liability because of the Communications Decency Act. Under that federal law, a website is only liable for content if it “is responsible, in whole or in part, for the creation or development of information provided through the Internet …”
We filed suit in Pierce County Superior Court. The trial court denied a motion by Backpage.com to dismiss the case under the Communications Decency Act, but certified the question for appeal.
The Washington Supreme Court accepted review of the trial court’s decision. Oral argument is set for October 21, 2014, and will be televised on TVW. The following links include copies of the briefs filed by the parties, as well as “friend of the court” briefs that were filed by a number of advocacy groups.
Read The Briefs Filed With The Court Below
2013-12-09 — Backpage — Appellants’ Opening Brief
2014-03-07 — Backpage — Respondent’s Brief
2014-05-22 — Backpage — Appellants’ Reply Brief
2014-09-05 — Backpage — Amici Curiae Brief of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy & Technology In Support of Appellants
2014-09-05 — Backpage — Amicus Brief of the State of WA ISO Respondents
2014-09-05 — Backpage — Amicus Curiae Brief of FAIR Girls ISO of Respondents
2014-09-05 — Backpage — Amicus Curiae Brief of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (“CATW”), In Support of Respondents
2014-09-05 — Backpage — Amicus Curiae Brief of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
2014-09-05 — Backpage — Brief of Amici Curiae Professors of Constitutional Law and Related Fields
September 26, 2014
Crownhill Elementary Volunteer Charged with Rape of a Child
BREMERTON — A 51-year-old Bremerton man who has volunteered at Crownhill Elementary was charged with first-degree rape of a child Friday in Kitsap County District Court.
Stephen Robert Jabs was arrested Thursday at his home on Holly Road near Seabeck, where Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office investigators, on tips from witnesses, found numerous photographs of underage children. The Sheriff’s Office believes there may additional victims, said spokesman Sgt. Ken Dickinson.
Jabs was booked into jail of charges of communicating with a minor for immoral purposes and possessing depictions of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct. The charges were upgraded to rape on Friday, when Jabs made his initial appearance in court.
Anyone with additional information should call Detective Aaron Baker at (360) 337-5611.
Child sex abuse attorneys can help families heal after a terrible ordeal such as this.
September 23, 2014
Daycare Child Abuse In Kent, WA
Parents who rely on an in-home day care in Kent are scrambling to make other arrangements.
The state shut down the ‘More Rainbows Childcare Home’ after police say the owner’s husband confessed to molesting a 4-year-old girl there.
Drew Garrett, 61, is now charged with first-degree child molestation.
Carol Williams lives right across the street.
“He has no right to touch a 4-year-old child at all,” Williams said.
“Any time you have somebody being accused of being a sexual predator, it can be pretty scary in a neighborhood full of kids, especially having two young kids myself,” neighbor Chuck Williams said.
Krista Foronda lives right next door and is close friends with the family.
“Our daughter has grown up with their daughter and she’s done sleepovers there. Their daughter has been over here. Something like this I’m completely blown away. I could never imagine him doing anything like that,” Foronda said.
Read the full story: http://q13fox.com/2014/09/22/4-year-old-girl-allgedly-molested-at-kent-in-home-daycare/
PCVA is handling a similar case. The Olympia Early Learning Center was closed in 2011 after allegations from our clients that an OELC employee sexually molested children at the daycare center.
If your child has been sexually abused in a daycare, please contact an attorney and learn your rights.
March 31, 2014
Oso Landslide Similar To 2007 Event
More than 20 people are dead, at least eight injured and approximately 30 are still unaccounted for after a massive landslide broke from a clear-cut hillside and leveled homes about four miles east of the community of Oso in Snohomish County according to published reports.
PCVA has helped people in death and catastrophic injury cases. Often, survivors of catastrophic situations often feel like they need legal advice immediately due to the influx of incoming calls and demands by insurance adjusters calling about property damages, life insurance, or medical insurance coverage. Occasionally, there may be a need to contact a probate attorney, an employer, or a host of other decisions that survivors of catastrophic situations are being bombarded with in rapid succession. Blogging about these matters is a sensitive matter, but PCVA’s goal is to make ourselves available to those confronted immediately with the terrible demands and burdens of being the survivor, left to pick up the pieces and keep moving forward.
PCVA has helped people in this situation. In 2011, PCVA filed several lawsuits against timber companies and the State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to help families who were victims of risky timber practices. Experts retained by PCVA agree that landslides and mudslides occur when timber is harvested on steep slopes in areas of unstable land, heavy rainfall, and defective drainage.
For example, such risky timber practices were the result of a mudslide that destroyed the Ranch House BBQ restaurant in 2007. There, the facts were very similar to the type of logging that occurred right above the OSO Landslide. DNR denied any wrongdoing, but in the end, it recognized that the evidence showed that risky timber practices caused the landslide. Thankfully, the case involved only property and business damages, and not personal injury or wrongful death. More can be read about the case here.
PCVA is also currently awaiting an important decision from the Washington State Supreme Court in the several cases filed in 2011. The decision will have an impact on where lawsuits for property damages can be filed. Oral arguments were heard in the spring of 2013 and a should be released shortly.
Washington law is clear that timber companies can be held responsible for their risky timber practices. The recent mudslides along Highway 530 near OSO in Snohomish County underscore exactly how risky timber practices can lead to catastrophe. Sadly, the evidence is mounting that risky timber practices, coupled with rain and other elements, caused the perfect recipe for one of the worst disaster tragedies that Washington has ever seen. PCVA extends their deepest condolences to those families impacted by the mudslide.
March 31, 2014
PCVA Wins WSAJ’s 2014 Alvin Anderson Award
We would like to thank WSAJ for awarding our firm with the 2014 Alvin Anderson Award. The Alvin Anderson Award is presented to an individual or firm in recognition of their extraordinary commitment, energy and effort in helping generate the economic resources necessary to enable the Washington State Association for Justice to promote and preserve the civil justice system.
March 26, 2014
Risky Timber Practices Above Oso Landslide
The Seattle Times reported yesterday that the Snohomish County’s own 2010 report called the slide area dangerous. It also reported that the State Department of Natural Resources (“DNR”) allowed logging on the plateau above the slope. The Seattle Times’ reporting mirrors what PCVA’s own independent research has yielded.
The triangle of land that was logged just before the 2006 Stealhead Mudslide can be seen in this image.
As the Seattle Times reported, the apex of this triangle cut facing down was only a mere 600 feet from the origin of the 2006 Sealhead Mudslide. This is a particularly dangerous cut in land that has been known for years to be unstable.
DNR approved timber harvesting on this land even though its own maps showed that the Oso slide area is not only steep but also comprised of “Qls” soil, a type of unconsolidated sediment.
Upon further investigation, PCVA has discovered that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) has a database containing additional information about the unstable soil composition of the Oso Mudslide area. According to the USDA maps, the soil where the mudslide occurred was comprised of fine to gravelly “loam,” a type of soil comprised of mostly sand and silt. Perhaps more alarming is that the area where the Oso Mudslide occurred, as well as where timber cuts have been allowed, were labeled “ESB.” According to the USDA’s website, “ESB” stands for “Escarpment, bedrock,” and is defined as “A relatively continuous and steep slope or cliff, which was produced by erosion or faulting, that breaks the general continuity of more gently sloping land surfaces. Exposed material is hard or soft bedrock.”
Experts alike agree that risky timber activities increases landslide frequency. In a paper published in Geology in April 2000, several landslide experts surveyed landslides in Washington and concluded that “evidence confirm[s] that forest clearing increases regional landslide frequency.” They further remarked that a “fundamental change in landscape dynamics is particularly relevant to long-term forest planning, especially where urban areas are extending into landslide-prone terrain.” A copy of this paper can be found here [176kb PDF].
Just as these experts concluded, another team of experts from Tetra Tech identified the Oso Mudslide area as being dangerous. As the Seattle Times reported, Tetra Tech’s study, a portion of which can be found here, identified the Oso Mudslide area “spotlighted the risks of the hill.” “[T]he Steelhead Drive area was identified not only because of the steep slope but also because of a soil type that has been linked to landslides.”
October 18, 2013
Bainbridge Island School District Found Negligent In Bullying Case Against A Student With Autism
A $300,000 verdict has been rendered against the Bainbridge Island School District for failing to protect a special needs student from aggressive bullying and sexual harassment.
The lawsuit filed on behalf of B.W. in Kitsap Superior Court in 2010 by the law firm of Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala PLLC, outlined months of intense bullying and sexual harassment that went disregarded by administrators at the Bainbridge High School.
A judge has ruled that the Bainbridge Island School District was negligent when it failed stop the sexual harassment and bullying of a former special needs student at Bainbridge High School. Retired Judge Terrence Carroll found for the plaintiffs, Jan and Jay Webster, and their son B.W., as he was identified throughout the litigation, and awarded $300,000 in damages for the district’s failure to protect the then 14-year-old disabled high school freshman.
The Websters filed suit in 2010 seeking to hold the school district accountable for its inability and unwillingness to stop a pattern of sexually harassing assaults and bullying by several of B.W.’s fellow Bainbridge High students.
In a written opinion, Judge Carroll agreed with the plaintiffs, “It is rather painfully obvious that the disruption and chaos that this family suffered was to a large degree a direct result of the negligence of the school district.”
As the Judge made clear in his ruling, the school district dropped the ball. As the court documents show, B.W.’s abuse only ended when his parents got fed up with the school’s inaction, obtained a restraining order, and contacted the Bainbridge Island Police. Bainbridge Island Police immediately launched an investigation and ultimately arrested and charged four male high school students back in 2007 for the harassment. All four were found guilty of criminal conduct related to B.W.’s bullying.
Court documents further indicated the parents of the student had made multiple requests for the school administrators to intervene and a concerned teacher even emailed the vice-principals and principal to place them on direct notice of the abuse.
“This is an important verdict for families with disabled children in the public school system,” said plaintiffs’ lead trial attorney Tom Vertetis. “This sends a clear message that bullying of any children, let alone our most vulnerable children is clearly unacceptable. The criminal trial of one of the perpetrators indicated the victim was bullied over 75 times with separate incidents of harassment.
According to court documents, the harassment included exposed genitals, sexualized contact, cyber-bullying and verbal harassment. As a result, B.W., who lives with Asperger’s syndrome, required years of therapy and anti-anxiety medication.
“The attitude of the school district that this type of student victimization happens elsewhere, but not on Bainbridge Island created an environment where the severity of the incidents were downplayed and in some cases completely ignored,” Vertetis said. “If our schools refuse to acknowledge the reality that sexual harassment and bullying happens on campus, our most vulnerable kids will continue to be harmed.”
September 5, 2013
Multicare CEO Will Retire in 2014
Five months after PCVA filed suit against the South Sound’s largest hospital conglomerate, MultiCare, and its California-based lien collection agency, Hunter Donaldson, MultiCare’s President and Chief Executive Officer has announced her intention to retire next year. According to MultiCare, CEO Diane Cecchettini will step down sometime in the first half of 2014.
In April, PCVA filed suit against MultiCare and Hunter Donaldson for defrauding accident victims by engaging in lien fraud. PCVA’s Darrell Cochran and Tacoma attorney Tom Gallagher brought the lawsuit on behalf of five Pierce County residents along with a request that the suit be granted class action status.
“Every single lien MulitCare filed through Hunter Donaldson is based on a fraudulent notary,” Cochran said. “That violates the law. “
MultiCare, which operates 5 hospitals and dozens of primary and urgent care clinics, is accused of conspiring with California-based Hunter Donaldson to falsely register a non-resident as a notary. That fraudulent notary then signed and filed thousands of illegal medical services liens with the Pierce County Auditor’s office.
Shortly after the suit was filed, MultiCare issued a state to The News Tribune stating, “MultiCare has temporarily suspended the enforcement of all medical liens issued on its behalf by Hunter Donaldson. We will meet with representatives from Hunter Donaldson as soon as possible.”
Despite MultiCare’s representations to the newspaper, Hunter Donaldson continues its efforts to collect money on the invalid and fraudulently created liens.
May 23, 2013
$16.5 Million Christian Brothers Settlement
We have reached a tentative settlement in the Christian Brothers bankruptcy. Under the proposed terms, the Christian Brothers and one of its insurers will pay $16.5 million to fund the settlement, and will also transfer ownership of other assets, including property. The settlement would only apply to the Christian Brothers in North America and allows abuse survivors to pursue claims against other entities, including the owners of school where the abuse happened.
The Christian Brothers of Ireland, a Catholic religious order, has agreed to pay $16.5 million to settle the claims of more than 400 survivors of sexual and physical abuse. The order will also transfer ownership of various properties and certain insurance policies that may provide coverage of abuse claims.
In April 2011, two asset-holding corporations of the Christian Brothers, The Christian Brothers of Ireland, Inc., an Illinois corporation, and the Christian Brothers Institute, a New York corporation, filed for bankruptcy protection in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York. According to court documents, the corporations filed for bankruptcy because of pending sexual abuse lawsuits, primarily in Washington state.
Since then, more than 400 men and women filed claims with the bankruptcy court, alleging they were sexually or physically abused by a Christian Brother or at a school run by the Christian Brothers. The religious order has owned or operated schools in the United States since the early 1900s.
Seattle sexual abuse attorney Jason P. Amala, who represents more than 80 abuse survivors in the bankruptcy, believes the settlement is vindication for his clients and others: “For years the Christian Brothers denied any wrongdoing, but this settlement acknowledges their role in decades of children being sexual abused at Catholic schools across the country. It not only begins to provide closure for our clients, but it will help offset the costs to their families and to society as a whole.”
Since approximately 2002, Amala and his law partner, Michael T. Pfau, have settled more than 50 claims against the Christian Brothers and the Seattle Archdiocese on behalf of men who claimed they were sexually abused at Catholic schools in Washington state, including O’Dea High School and Briscoe Memorial School. The total settlements exceeded $25 million. Pfau and Amala were pursuing ten more claims against the Christian Brothers in Washington when the religious order chose to file for bankruptcy protection.
Although the settlement applies to claims against the Christian Brothers of North America, it allows abuse survivors to pursue claims against other institutions that they allege are also responsible for the abuse. For example, more than 50 of the men represented by Pfau and Amala have filed claims in Washington and Illinois against other institutions that they allege are also responsible for the abuse, including the Seattle Archdiocese and the Archdiocese of Chicago. The settlement does not affect those claims, or the rights of other abuse survivors to file similar claims against the same or other entities.
According to Pfau, additional lawsuits may be filed against a number of other entities, including the owners of schools where abuse took place: “In many cases the local diocese or another entity owned the school and collected money from the school. Those entities are often just as liable for the abuse as the Christian Brothers. Many of our current clients intend to file claims against those entities, and I would not be surprised if more people come forward with similar claims.”
In addition to the monetary settlement, the Christian Brothers have also agreed to a number of measures that are designed to protect children from sexual abuse. Pfau says the non-monetary terms were an important part of the settlement: “Our clients want to make sure history does not repeat itself. This settlement will help ensure future children are protected.”
December 9, 2011
Youth Worker Charged in Child Rape
The (Tacoma) News Tribune’s Adam Lynn is reporting that the King County Prosecutor’s office has charged 25-year-old Luis A. Rodriguez of Lacey, a former youth program director at the YMCA in Puyallup with one count of second-degree child molestation, one count of third-degree child molestation and one count of third-degree child rape. According to the report, Rodriguez was also an assistant coach for Puyallup’s Cascade Christian High School football team and a volunteer at Champions Centre church in Tacoma.
Court records indicate that much of the alleged abuse happened at a house on church grounds and at Rodriguez’s Federal Way home.
If you are a survivor of sexual abuse, you are not alone. The attorneys at Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala PLLC have helped many survivors obtain the counseling, justice, and closure they deserve.
September 2, 2011
More Olympia Early Learning Center Suits Filed
A parent of a youngster formerly enrolled at the now-defunct Olympia Early Learning Center has sued the child care facility, alleging that a former assistant teacher molested her son, according to the suit.
The former assistant teacher at the Olympia Early Learning Center’s McPhee Road site, Elisha Tabor, 20, was sentenced in July to 18 years to life in prison for raping a 5-year-old pupil in the child’s home and a 4-year-old pupil at work.
The civil lawsuit filed Thursday alleges that a boy was molested by Tabor while he was between the ages of 2 months and 4 years old while enrolled at the Olympia Early Learning Center’s McPhee Road site between 2007 and 2010, attorney Darrell Cochran said.
Cochran said that the boy identified in his lawsuit filed in Thurston County Superior Court on Thursday is not one of the children that Tabor was convicted of molesting or raping.
For more on this story, see Saturday’s Olympian.
Read more: http://www.theolympian.com/2011/09/02/1784068/more-suits-emerge-from-olympia.html#ixzz1WpsDVCZw
August 19, 2011
Gary Shafer Sentenced To 14.5 Years To Life For Molesting Kids On An Olympia School Bus
Tacoma Attorney Darrell L. Cochran is representing families of children molested by Gary Shafer, who was employed by the Olympia School District. If you or someone you know has children that potentially have been inappropriately handled by Shafer, please call our office at 1-800-259-PCVA.
Below is the full text of the story running today in the Olympian.
A former Olympia school bus driver was sentenced to 14½ years to life in prison Thursday for sexually assaulting two 6-year-old girls in December, while he was acting as a helper on a route for Centennial Elementary School.
The girls’ mothers broke into tears as they addressed the court during Gary Shafer’s sentencing before Thurston County Superior Court Judge Gary Tabor.
One of the mothers noted that Shafer sat in her daughter’s seat so he could groom her for molestation.
“Not only did you ruin her very first year of school, but you also scarred her for life,” she said.
The other child’s mother ruefully noted that she had reassured her daughter the school bus would be safe.
“Little did I know I was tossing her into the arms of a pedophile,” she said.
Shafer’s role as a helper involved riding as a passenger to learn another driver’s route so he’d know it as a substitute.
Shafer, 32, of Port Orchard, earlier had pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree child molestation and one count of possession of child pornography for images that later were found on his computer. He also pleaded guilty under an Alford plea to an additional count of first-degree child molestation.
Under an Alford plea, a defendant maintains his or her innocence but admits there is enough evidence to convict. It carries the same sanction and prison sentence as a standard conviction.
Shafer’s attorney, Charles Lane, noted that Shafer, unlike nearly all of the other sex offenders he has represented, has admitted he has a problem.
Shafer had worked for the Olympia School District since October 2005. He was placed on administrative leave the first week of January, when the Sheriff’s Office contacted him about the allegations. He resigned Jan. 19.
Shafer’s most recent bus assignment was Route 41, which serves Reeves Middle and Hansen Elementary schools. District spokesman Peter Rex has said Shafer passed a criminal background check when he was hired. He has added that Shafer had no other disciplinary actions on his employment record with the district.
The parents of one of the girls sued the district, seeking $2.25 million. According to a tort claim notice sent by Tacoma attorney Darrell Cochran to Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Priddy, the “district’s lack of oversight and lack of response to a clearly dangerous situation is really appalling.”
In a prior interview, Cochran said he wants to know more about what the driver of the bus on Shafer’s route saw and whether he tried to prevent Shafer from having children sit on his lap.
Judge Tabor noted Thursday that Shafer has admitted to “grooming” the young girls over time so he could gain their trust. Tabor said he was troubled by that admission.
Shafer apologized to his victims, who were not in the courtroom, and their families before he was sentenced.
The state’s Indeterminate Sentencing Review Board will periodically review Shafer’s case and treatment to see whether he is eligible for release. If he is not, he could spend the rest of his life in prison under state law.
December 20, 2010
DSHS Class Action – $57M Verdict for In-Home Care Providers
A Thurston County jury today found that Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) short-changed about 22,000 home healthcare workers, and awarded the group $57 million in damages. The verdict followed a three week trial. DSHS underpaid the workers over a four year period. The workers filed a class action suit against DSHS in 2007, seeking payment of amounts DSHS wrongfully withheld. Today’s verdict represents the largest damage award ever against the State.
“The jury, after hearing from both the workers and Medicaid beneficiaries, and from DSHS personnel who implemented the pay reduction, found that DSHS breached its duty of good faith and fair dealing with the workers. This case has always been about whether DSHS should pay for work it required these folks to do,” said Greg McBroom of Livengood, Fitzgerald & Alskog, the lead law firm representing the plaintiffs. McBroom also represented the plaintiffs in one of the earlier cases striking down the DSHS rule. Jenkins v. DSHS, 160 Wn.2d 287, 157 P.2d 388 (2007)
“The jury’s decision means that 22,000 people, working from 2004-2008, for a little more than minimum wage, will be paid for all the hours DSHS required them to work,” said Darrell Cochran, of the Tacoma firm Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs. “While the total recovery is very large, the award to the workers amounts to about $2,500, on average. That $2,500 is a very large sum to someone making the minimum wage.”
DSHS administers Medicaid programs in Washington. In 2004, DSHS adopted a regulation that reduced pay for workers in the program by 15% if the worker lived with the person they were caring for. Workers who lived outside the home, performing the same services, received full pay for the services provided. Two trial courts struck down the DSHS rule shortly after it implemented the reduction. Even after the state Supreme Court also ruled against DSHS, the agency continued to underpay some workers for almost a year more.
The State will probably appeal the jury’s verdict said an attorney familiar with the case. If the State appeals, a final decision may be a year or two away. The Thurston county case is Rekhter v. DSHS, Docket no. 07-2-00895-8.