Insurance companies are suing Avista to recover payments made during the 2020 fire in Malden, Pine City

More than a dozen insurance companies – which covered more than 40 Malden and Pine City residents, at least four business entities and the town of Malden itself – are suing Avista Utilities in an attempt to recover insurance payments. of a forest fire that destroyed a large part of the towns. in 2020.

The lawsuit was filed March 31 in Spokane County Superior Court, just a day after more than 40 Malden and Pine City residents filed a separate lawsuit. Both lawsuits charge Avista with negligence and claim the company is responsible for the fire, based on a May 2021 state Department of Natural Resources report.

The state report said the blaze, known as the Babb Road Fire, started when a tree branch fell into Avista’s power lines. The tree was diseased, damaged and infested with insects.

“One of the primary causes of wildfires started by power lines is direct or indirect contact between a tree and a power line,” the March 31 lawsuit read. “This was or should have been known to Avista.”

The insurance companies are claiming damages in an amount to be determined in court.

Avista representatives said Monday that the company is aware of the lawsuit and will participate and cooperate in the legal process. Avista does not comment on ongoing litigation.

The Babb Road Fire started on September 7, 2020 in a stand of trees near Babb and Morrow roads and burned approximately 15,266 acres.

A red flag warning in effect on Monday called for gusts of 40 to 50 mph, according to the lawsuit. The fire was eventually pushed southwest towards Malden and Pine City in Whitman County by winds of up to 50 mph.

Citing these conditions, the lawsuit states that Avista should have de-energized power lines in high-risk areas.

“Avista had a duty to operate and maintain its overhead power lines in a safe and responsible manner,” the lawsuit states. “Among Avista’s duties in operating its overhead power lines was its duty to manage vegetation and to identify and remove in a timely manner any hazardous trees that threatened its power lines.”

The fire burned about 80% of homes in the towns of Malden and Pine City. Only 40% of the city’s structures were insured. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed March 30 by residents of the two towns were either uninsured or seeking compensation for damages that were not covered by insurance.

Insurance companies suing Avista include the Cities Insurance Association of Washington, which provides municipal insurance coverage for the city of Malden. Business entities represented by the insurers named in the lawsuit include Field Instruments and Controls and Rocking Arrow K Ranch Inc.

The insurance companies are represented by attorney Bryan Campbell of the Philadelphia-based law firm Cozen O’Connor, which has offices in more than 30 cities, including Seattle.

Kristan F. Talley