The family of a Lake Stevens girl who was crushed by an ice boulder while visiting the Mt. Baker Snoqualmie National Forest last year filed a wrongful death suit Tuesday against the U.S. Forest Service.
Eleven-year-old Grace Tam was killed in July 2010 after she was hit by a large ice boulder at the Big Four Ice. Her mother was injured in the same incident. The two were not inside the caves, but were sitting on a rock at a nearby snowfield, according to witnesses.
The Tam family's suit, which does not ask for a specific amount of money, raises the question of whether the government has a responsibility to keep people safe in parks?
"The warnings [at the ice caves] are completely inadequate for the types of dangers that you face up there," said James McCormick, the attorney representing the Tam family. "They don't give you any idea of what a safe zone is."
The Tam family said it wants the Forest Service to install signs warning hikers of the dangers at the Big Four Ice Caves. "I don't want this to happen to anybody else," Grace's father John said. "This should never happen, and it will happen again."
The park is visited by 50,000 people a year, and the Forest Service has installed a well-groomed, accessible trail for visitors.
"This is not a remote forest area. This is not a situation where you're climbing Mt. Rainier," McCormick said.
Civil attorney Jeff Campiche, who has hiked to the ice caves where Grace Tam died, said the judge hearing the Tams' suit "will have to decide was the government's actions reasonable and intended to protect the people they've invited there."
The family's own actions that day will also be an issue, Campiche added. "Did they ignore warnings? Did they assume the risk? Did they understand the risk?"
Forest spokesman Kelly Sprute said it doesn't comment on ongoing litigation.
The lawsuit is being handled by the Tacoma law firm of Messina Bulzomi Christensen.
Reporting by KING 5's Amy Moreno.