Jury awards $1 million for home loss

Posted: Wednesday, July 02, 2003

A Juneau couple whose home was destroyed in 1998 by a portion of Fritz Cove Road that collapsed on it was awarded a settlement from the state of almost $1 million Friday.

After five hours of deliberation, the jury determined the state was responsible for the collapsed road and therefore liable for the damage to the home of Clair and Brenda Markey.

"We alleged that because it was a public road that damaged the private property, that it is damage caused by the state of Alaska," said the Markeys' attorney, Tom Findley.

The state has less than 30 days to appeal the decision.

"We're taking a look at it, but right now I would say that we are planning to appeal," said Alaska Attorney General Gregg Renkes.

The state offered to pay about $220,000 for the damages, a number arrived at by calculating the difference between the $420,000 the home and property was worth before the landslide and the $200,000 it was worth after.

The Markeys rejected the offer, arguing that it would not be enough to rebuild their home.

The jury returned a settlement, awarding $807,000 to repair the lot and rebuild the home, $130,000 for personal property, $11,000 for the site cleanup and $45,600 for rent paid over the last five years.

"That seems to be four times the market value," Renkes said. "If we appeal, it will most likely be on the issue of the proper measure of compensation."

The Markeys lived at 2530 Fritz Cove Road near Auke Bay and were traveling to Kentucky on Oct. 20, 1998, when a record 3.47 inches of rain fell in Juneau.

Findley said the gravel fill used as a foundation for the road became compacted over several years and eventually less absorbent. The water pressure from the storm caused the foundation and road to collapse.

A section of the road about 25 feet long and 40 feet deep came roaring down the side of the hill about 200 feet, slamming into the side of the unoccupied house and knocking it off its foundation and onto the adjacent beach.

"We just missed it," Brenda Markey said. "And we wouldn't have survived if we had been in the house."

The Markeys were denied coverage by their insurance company because of an exclusion for landslides and have since lived in a small two-bedroom apartment near Juneau-Douglas High School.

"We really loved the house we were in," said Brenda Markey, 56, as she and her husband Clair, 67, stood at the site where their two-story home was demolished.

Shonda Belknap, 28, a juror in the case, said evidence presented in court showed that road fill and natural debris acted as a "stopper," lifting the road upward and ultimately causing it to collapse.

She noted that the state was aware of similar problems on other sections of Fritz Cove Road but did not inform area residents of potential landslides.

"(The state) should have informed the Markeys of the risk, or they should have done something about it immediately," Belknap said. "It seemed the state was willing to compensate the Markeys but not anywhere near full compensation."

The Markeys said they plan to rebuild a new home on the same site unless the state appeals the decision.

"We hope to be ready to start construction of the house as soon as the weather is right next year," she said.

If the state does not appeal, it will not be the first time the Markeys have rebuilt the house.

When they purchased the property in 1986, they spent thousands renovating the home. Over the next 12 years, they made several structural additions to the 2,800 square-foot house, replaced the foundation and added a new tile floor and cabinets to the kitchen.

"We had just gotten it the way we finally wanted it," Brenda Markey said. "The only thing we wanted from day one is our home back."

Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothyi@juneauempire.com.

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