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05-02 FILE House Damage1-js.jpg

This house on Vineyard Mountain shifted down the hillside amid heavy rains in January 2012. (Jesse Skoubo | Corvallis Gazette-Times)

A jury decides county drainage system not at fault in destruction of Bob and Gayna Flake’s house

A couple who lost their Corvallis-area home in a landslide that wasn’t covered by their insurance policy have now lost their bid to secure compensation in court.

Bob and Gayna Flake’s Vineyard Mountain home at 5994 N.W. Rosewood Drive was knocked off its foundations on Jan. 19, 2012, when the slope on which it stood collapsed during heavy rains.

Damage due to earth movement is not covered by homeowners policies, so the Flakes got no payments from their insurance company. Eventually they turned to the legal system, filing suit in Benton County Circuit Court for $885,000 in damages, the estimated value of the house and its contents, including their home office.

The suit claimed the destruction of the home constituted an “inverse condemnation” by Benton County because the county-maintained drainage system along Rosewood Drive diverted large amounts of rain runoff onto their property.

On Friday a 12-person jury disagreed, ruling that the county did not cause the landslide.

“We were shocked” by the verdict, Gayna Flake told the Gazette-Times on Wednesday. “It was devastating.”

The couple have not yet decided whether to file an appeal of the jury’s decision. They have 30 days from the time the court judgment is entered, which is expected to happen next week.

“The Flakes are still considering all their options,” according to their attorney, Joel P. Leonard of Elliott, Ostrander & Preston in Portland.

Benton County Counsel Vance Croney said the case hinged on the question of whether the county had deprived the couple of their home and possessions by failing to prevent the landslide. Because there has been no compensation, that would constitute an illegal taking.

“The jury found that the stormwater system did not cause the landslide,” Croney said. “Therefore, there was no taking.”

Even if there’s no appeal, the county might not be entirely out of the woods yet. A dozen other homeowners in the Rosewood Drive area filed tort claim notices last summer, reserving their right to sue Benton County over the drainage issue, even though no other houses were damaged by slides during the January 2012 storms and flooding.

Croney said those residents have two years from the time of the alleged harm to sue in civil court.

He also offered a potential ray of hope for the Flakes.

Even though the Federal Emergency Management Agency initially ruled the couple did not qualify for government disaster aid, Croney reported that another possible avenue for obtaining FEMA funds recently came to light. Now that the lawsuit is over, he said, the county will look into the matter.

Contact reporter Bennett Hall at bennett.hall@gazettetimes.com or 541-758-9529.

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Reporter Bennett Hall can be contacted at 541-758-9529 or bennett.hall@gazettetimes.com.

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Special Projects Editor

Special Projects Editor, Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald