Lawsuit dismissed in girl’s death at Big Four ice caves

SEATTLE — A federal District Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service brought by the family of Grace Tam, an 11-year-old Marysville girl who died at the Big Four ice caves in 2010.

Judge James Robart on Friday ruled in favor of the government’s motion to dismiss the case.

Grace died of internal injuries July 31, 2010, after she was struck and crushed by a massive chunk of ice that snapped off the ice field. She was standing a dozen feet from the ice fields waiting to have her photo taken when she was struck.

Her parents, John Tam and Tamami Okauchi, on Dec. 20, 2011, filed a wrongful-death suit against the federal government, alleging that the Forest Service was careless and negligent in its efforts to warn people about the dangers of visiting the ice caves.

Big Four Mountain’s ice flow is among the most popular places visited in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Thousands of people visit each summer and records show that hundreds were there on the day the Tam family was there.

On the day that Grace Tam died, a warning sign was missing from its regular spot near the ice caves. The sign was located along the trail from the Big Four parking lot off the Mountain Loop Highway, east of Verlot. However, similar warning signs were posted at the parking lot. The warning at the kiosk at the ice caves trailhead reads: “Danger! The caves are extremely unstable! DO NOT enter or climb on them. On Aug. 2, 1998, one death and a serious injury occurred due to the ice caves collapsing. You have a responsibility for yourself and your loved ones.”

Darrington District Forest Service officials testified that the limited number of weekend staff were out working on forest trails and in campgrounds and not available to put up the replacement sign after it arrived July 30. The sign was installed on Aug. 2, 2010, two days after Grace was killed.

Government lawyers argued that no federal law mandates that the Forest Service replace safety signs on a certain schedule or where to put them.

“In hindsight it may be easy to say the (Forest Service) should have replaced the signs sooner, but that is exactly the judicial second-guessing of government decision-making that the discretionary function exception (of the Federal Tort Claims Act) is designed to prevent,” government lawyers argued. “(Our) task is not to determine whether the Forest Service made the correct decision in its allocation of resources. Where the government is forced, as it was here, to balance competing concerns, immunity shields the decision.”

Robart concluded that the government established that it has sovereign immunity under the exception to the tort claims act.

In an email sent after the ruling, Darrington District Ranger Peter Forbes said, “we are deeply sorry for the family’s loss.”

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

Talk to us

More in Local News

FILE - In this photo taken Oct. 2, 2018, semi-automatic rifles fill a wall at a gun shop in Lynnwood, Wash. Gov. Jay Inslee is joining state Attorney General Bob Ferguson to propose limits to magazine capacity and a ban on the sale of assault weapons. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
Democrats advance assault weapons ban, new rules for gun buyers

The measures passed a House committee without Republican support. They are part of a broader agenda to curb gun violence.

A person and child watch seagulls on the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry in Washington on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Cold weather returning to Western Washington

Nightly temperatures in the 20s with highs in the 30s were expected this weekend. Cold weather shelters will be open.

Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring is this year's winner of the Henry M. Jackson Award given by Economic Alliance Snohomish County. Photographed in Marysville, Washington on April 25, 2022. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Marysville State of the City address set for Feb. 1

Mayor Jon Nehring will highlight 2022 accomplishments and look to the future. Questions from the audience will follow.

NO CAPTION NECESSARY: Logo for the Cornfield Report by Jerry Cornfield. 20200112
A move to require voting and a bicameral chasm on vehicle pursuits

It’s Day 19 and the mood is heating up as the third week of the 2023 legislative session comes to an end.

Lynnwood County Council candidate Joshua Binda is the subject of two complaints with the Public Disclosure Commission. (Josh Binda campaign photo)
Binda fined $1,000 for misuse of campaign contributions

The Lynnwood Council member’s personal use of donor funds was a “serious violation” of campaign law, the state PDC concluded.

Juniper DeCasso, 17, prepares groceries for pickup at the Edmonds Food Bank in Edmonds, Washington on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. Scriber Lake High School student Juniper works at the Edmonds Food bank as part of an on-the-job training class that teaches students about career options and goal planning, while also paying them for a part-time internship. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
School program gives Scriber Lake teens class credits — and paychecks

The on-the-job training program offers paid internships and career planning assignments with a real-world feel.

Dr. Robert Carsrud from the 2015 King County Voters Pamphlet. (King County Elections)
State to pay $600K over psychologist’s harassment at Monroe prison

In a federal lawsuit, Tressa Grummer alleged persistent sexual harassment as an intern by her supervisor, Robert Carsrud.

Construction crews work on the Lynnwood Light rail station on Tuesday, March 29, 2022 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Sound Transit asserts Bellevue-Redmond line won’t delay Lynnwood light rail

Its board approved $6 million to study an East Link “starter line.” Lynnwood Mayor Christine Frizzell said: “Snohomish County wants to ride, too.”

FILE - The sun dial near the Legislative Building is shown under cloudy skies, March 10, 2022, at the state Capitol in Olympia, Wash. An effort to balance what is considered the nation's most regressive state tax code comes before the Washington Supreme Court on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023, in a case that could overturn a prohibition on income taxes that dates to the 1930s. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Justices weigh legality of tax aimed at rebalancing state’s tax code

The state Supreme Court heard arguments about whether to overturn a prohibition on income taxes that dates to the 1930s.

Most Read