A jury has ruled that a ranch company's negligence helped lead to the huge 2005 landslide that crushed part of a seaside community and killed 10 people.
After a trial of nearly two months, the jurors in Ventura County Superior Court found on Tuesday that the La Conchita Ranch Co. did not build a sufficient drainage system for its land on a hilltop overlooking the community of La Conchita.
The landslide followed soaking winter storms, and attorneys for the plaintiffs had argued the ranch, which grows lemons and avocados, saturated its orchards and created a "perfect recipe" for a landslide.
The ranch's lawyers countered that the area is geologically unstable and has had at least six landslides, including a 1909 slide that killed four railroad workers.
The Jan. 10, 2005, slide destroyed 13 homes and damaged 23 others in the unincorporated town on California's central coast, 70 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
"I'm glad the ranch is being held accountable," said community leader Mike Bell, sometimes called the "mayor" of the unincorporated town. "They had every opportunity to prevent what happened to our town and hopefully now they're going to pay for it."
Attorneys for both sides declined to comment after Tuesday's findings, citing a gag order that continues until the damages phase of the trial is over. That part of the trial, which the judge has said could take more than a month, begins Monday.
The ranch will not be subject to punitive damages, because the jury ruled that its conduct was not "outrageous" or in "reckless disregard" to property or people.
It took Judge Vincent O'Neill more than an hour to read 50 pages of findings in the case, in which dozens of plaintiffs including property owners and relatives of victims sued the company for wrongful death, personal damage and property damage.
The complex jury verdict also found that some of the plaintiffs who owned property in the area were liable for injuries to other plaintiffs.
The jury exonerated ranch manager David Orr and Ventura County, saying they were not negligent.