Bellevue family files lawsuit against city after landslide destroys home

The owners of a home that slid off its foundation in a life-threatening landslide officially filed a lawsuit against the city of Bellevue on Wednesday, for unspecified monetary damages. 

According to court documents, the homeowners are suing the city, saying a burst water main, installed in the 1960s, is to blame for their financial loss, physical injuries and emotional trauma.  

On Jan. 17, a river of water and mud ripped John and Barbara Surdi’s home and carpet business off its foundation, injuring Barbara who was still inside at the time.

The city initially suggested heavy rain being the cause of the landslide that broke the asbestos cement water pipe above the property. The Surdi’s lawsuit claims the opposite, that the pipe failure is what triggered the landslide.

RELATED: Investigators will review age, condition of water main that broke in Bellevue landslide

According to court documents, the lawsuit builds on what was revealed by FOX13's reporting in the weeks after the disaster, and based in part on the city's own engineering review: that asbestos cement pipes are not as reliable as previously thought when they were initially installed.

  • 30. The majority of the City's water utility pipe failures occur in asbestos cement pipes.
  • 31. Asbestos cement pipes have a shorter useful life than cast iron or ductile iron pipes.
  • 34. When asbestos cement pipes fail, they are more likely to catastrophically fail.
  • 42. The City knew or should have known that the water main on the Water Main Steep Slope was subject to lateral pressures that could cause the pipe to fail.
  • 47. The City failed to timely inspect the asbestos cement water main on the Water Main Steep Slope.

The City of Bellevue's Chief Communications Officer, Brad Harwood, responded to the lawsuit on Wednesday:

"First and foremost, we at the City of Bellevue recognize that this has been an incredibly painful process for the Surdi family. We wish them the best as they continue to recover from this terrible and unexpected event.  

Today’s step by the Surdi's is not unexpected. A party can file a lawsuit once 60 days have passed after submitting a claim. To date, the city has not taken action to affirm or deny the claim. The slide was a complex incident, and it will take more than a couple of months to determine the cause and any potential liability.

The pipe involved in the Jan. 17, 2022 slide event was installed by the owner of the hillside in the early 1970s, not the city. It’s an 8-inch water line that has had no prior history of reported leaks or breakage. The pipe remains buried in the hillside under approximately 10-20 feet of fill and has now been video scoped several times. Based on this initial investigation there appears to have been no catastrophic break of the pipe.

The city, along with the legal counsel and consultants for the Surdi's and Forest Ridge continue to investigate the cause of the slide. We look forward to working with all parties involved to reach an appropriate outcome."

RELATED: City of Bellevue sues landslide victims so they can access, demolish home

Asbestos cement is made up of 12 to 15% asbestos. The city’s utility map shows other water mains throughout the community were installed using asbestos cement material. Bellevue has already spent several millions of dollars replacing "aging" asbestos cement water mains across the city for years, according to 2013 planning documents. Bellevue Utilities also slated several AC replacement projects in 2020 as part of its capital improvement plans, including the area near the landslide.

Bellevue Utilities offers detail on safety guidance in its Water Engineering Standards, published in January 2021. The document includes information about safety measures regarding asbestos cement.

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This is a developing story.