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story.lead_photo.caption FILE PHOTO: A van swept away by floodwaters rests at an angle against a tree in 2010 at the Albert Pike campgrounds. The spraypaint on the passenger-side door signifies that it has been searched for victims. - Photo by Gavin Lesnick

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed on Friday a district court's dismissal of lawsuits from the flash flood at the Albert Pike Recreational Area that killed 20 campers in June 2010.

The court upheld U.S. District Judge Susan Hickey's March 2017 ruling that the plaintiffs of 11 consolidated lawsuits did not have jurisdiction to sue the federal government under the Federal Tort Claims Act for negligence and malicious conduct related to the development and maintenance of the Loop D campsites at the recreation area.

Seventeen of the campers who were killed were camping in the Loop D section, the opinion said.

Heavy rain upstream of the Little Missouri River on June 10, 2010, caused the floodwater to roar through the campgrounds, sweeping away campers unable to escape the rapidly rising waters. A U.S. Geological Survey expert described the flood as a 500-year flood event, the court wrote.

The government's environmental assessment in developing Loop D concluded that it was not in a flood plain, and no signs warning of flood danger were ever posted when the campsites opened in 2004, the opinion said.

Under the Federal Tort Claims Act, the government could have been stripped of its immunity in circumstances under which an individual landowner would be liable, according to the opinion.

The government argued, the opinion said, that it had immunity under the Arkansas Recreational Use Statute that could be removed only if the campers had been charged to use the area or if the government had maliciously failed to guard or warn against ultra-hazardous conditions.

The appeals court ruled that campsite rental fees at the recreation area were not charges and that camping in a 100-year flood plain, which the court determined Loop D to be in, was "not an uncommon recreational activity in Arkansas" and not ultra-hazardous, the opinion said.

"Because we conclude that under Arkansas law a private landowner would be immune from plaintiffs' claims, we affirm the district court's dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction," the court wrote in its conclusion.

State Desk on 07/21/2018

Print Headline: Flash-flood suits' dismissal upheld; 20 campers were killed in ’10

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  • Jfish
    July 21, 2018 at 7:47 a.m.

    This is a fair ruling. If you choose to camp in or near a floodplain, you are personally accountable for your safety. It was just an unfortunate tragedy.

  • Nodmcm
    July 21, 2018 at 9:04 a.m.

    Albert Pike campground was one of the most idyllic campgrounds in Arkansas, but now it is closed to overnight camping, apparently permanently. What a tremendous loss for so many, including the many small children who visited the park and its creekside camping spots, enjoying swimming in the cool spring water on typical 100-degree Arkansas summer days. They say loss is a big part of growing older. This is a tremendous one for Arkansas.

  • gandk
    July 21, 2018 at 5:15 p.m.

    I have hiked the area many times over the years and noticed flood debris well over my head. I wondered about floods in those narrow valleys. Locals knew about flash floods but they weren't asked.

  • Quackenfuss
    July 21, 2018 at 10:45 p.m.

    But the government concluded that it wasn't a floodplain, thus gave no warning. Also, how is a rental fee not a "charge". I don't see this like the lawsuits by idiots who buy hot coffee then claim they didn't know it was hot when they spill it. I think the government owes a bit of a higher duty to citizens to inform and warn them of dangers in facilities provided by taxpayer money, and should not be able to hide behind immunity in all cases, this being one of them. I believe there was clear negligence on the part of the government here.