TEXARKANA — A federal judge is asking the Arkansas Supreme Court to weigh in on a legal issue in multiple civil lawsuits filed by relatives of the 20 people killed in flash floods at a southwest Arkansas campground.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Susan Hickey halted proceedings in 11 separate suits over the 2010 flooding at the Albert Pike campground, which is operated by the U.S. Forest Service. The Texarkana Gazette reported that Hickey wants the state's highest court to interpret the word "malicious" as used in the Arkansas Recreational Use Statute.
In June 2010, the Little Missouri River rose more than 20 feet in less than four hours, trapping people in the Albert Pike campground and killing 20. Since then, relatives of the victims have sued the U.S. Forest Service, claiming that the campers' deaths were caused by the agency's negligence.
The suits accuse the U.S. Forest Service of failing to properly design the campground and failing to warn campers of the risk of flooding, among other allegations.
But the government argues that the Arkansas Recreational Use Statue bars lawsuits against landowners who don't charge a fee for recreational use. However, the law makes an exception if the landowner "maliciously" fails to warn about conditions or activities known to be dangerous.