OLYMPIA, Wash. – The Washington State Supreme Court upheld a ruling against an engineering firm that it was negligent in the horrific death of a man who fell into a vat of hot sewer sludge in an accident at the Spokane wastewater treatment plant in 2004.
On May 10, 2004 a digester dome at the plant collapsed. The collapse dropped worker Mike Cmos into the vat of 100-degree sewer sludge, where he drowned.
Two other workers were hurt. Dan Evans was thrown 30 feet from the top of the dome and drenched with sludge. Larry Michaels was on the ground nearby and was knocked down by the wave of sludge. Both suffered serious injuries.
The two survivors and the wife of Mike Cmos sued the engineering firm, CH2M Hill, Inc., that was contracted by the plant for negligence, along with the CH2M Hill, Inc. program manager on site, Kelly Irving. The victims won in 2008 after a three week bench trial in Spokane County Superior Court. In writing his decision, Judge Robert Austin said, “Mike Cmos arguably suffered one of the most disgusting and terrible deaths imaginable.”
On Thursday morning the State Supreme Court issued their ruling against CH2M Hill, Inc.’s appeal of Austin’s ruling and agreed with Austin’s findings.
The Supreme Court agreed with Austin that CH2M Hill, Inc. was not immune from being sued for negligence under the Industrial Insurance Act.
The victims in the lawsuit accused CH2M Hill, Inc. of changing the flow of sewage at the plant, but never telling city employees. The victims believe that changing the flow helped cause the digester dome to overflow and collapse.
The lawsuit labeled CH2M Hill, Inc. negligent in its engineering, management and design of sewage plant upgrades.
In 2007 when the lawsuit was filed the Cmos family told KREM 2 News they wanted money to cover funeral expenses, loss of income and benefits, pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. They did not specify a dollar amount.