Insurer argues bones unearthing isn’t covered for Oak Harbor

Archaeologists work in a fenced-off area to recover Native American remains uncovered during the Pioneer Way construction project in 2011. - File photo
Archaeologists work in a fenced-off area to recover Native American remains uncovered during the Pioneer Way construction project in 2011.
— image credit: File photo

An insurance company filed a complaint for declaratory relief in U.S. District Court this week against the City of Oak Harbor and an engineering firm.

Travelers Insurance argues that it has no obligation to provide coverage to the city or Perteet, Inc. in connection with the Swimomish Tribe’s lawsuit against the two entities.

The civil action is a new wrinkle in the ongoing and costly saga involving the desecration of a Native American burial ground during the Pioneer Way construction project in 2011.

The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community filed a $9-million complaint for damages against the city, followed by a lawsuit in June against the city, Perteet, KBA Construction Management and Strider Construction Management.

Mayor Scott Dudley said he isn’t surprised with the action by Travelers Insurance and that he doubts the outcome will have implications for other insurance companies embroiled in the case. He pointed out that the engineering firm wasn’t involved in actual digging or oversight of the project, so it may not be a central player in the lawsuit.

“The tribe is going after the deep pockets,” he said. “That’s not necessarily the city, but the insurance company for the city and the insurance companies for the contractors.”

The city required Perteet to obtain commercial liability insurance, which the company obtained from Travelers Insurance.

The complaint on behalf of Travelers, written by Lether & Associates of Seattle, states that the insurance covered “bodily injury” and “property damage” and questions whether the tribe’s alleged damages fall under those categories.

The complaint also says the insurance excludes coverage for liability arising out of failure to render “professional services,” which may refer to the city’s failure to hire an archaeologist when digging near a known burial site.

In addition, Travelers’ claim questions whether the city provided the insurance company with prompt notice of the “occurrence.”

The complaint requests the court declare that neither Perteet nor the city have indemnity coverage through Travelers for the lawsuit. It also seeks attorney fees and costs.


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