Mother of Yarnell Hill Hot Shot takes first step in lawsuit

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PRESCOTT, Ariz. -- The mother of one of the 19 Hot Shots killed in the Yarnell Hill Fire in June has filed a notice of claim, the first step in what could become a $36 million lawsuit.

"Because of the negligence of the State of Arizona, Yavapai County, and the City of Prescott—and because of the negligence of their relevant agencies, departments, officials, employees, and agents—Grant McKee died on June 30, 2013, during the Yarnell Hill Fire," reads the notice of claim by Knapp & Roberts, the firm representing Marcia McKee. "With the exercise of reasonable care, Grant’s death was preventable. In fact, with the exercise of reasonable care, no member of the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew would have died on June 30, 2013."

Based on the Knapp & Roberts paperwork, McKee is demanding $12 million each from Yavapai County, the city of Prescott and the state of Arizona.

"The liable public entities should appreciate their liability and the tremendous loss that the death of Grant McKee has caused for his mother," the notice of claim, which was dated Thursday and made public Friday, reads. "We anticipate that the liable public entities will fairly and promptly evaluate this notice of claim and agree that a prompt, fair settlement is the best course for all concerned."

The notice of claim names more than a dozen people at the local, county and state levels.

  • Prescott Mayor Marlin Kuykendall
  • Lynn Mulhall, City Clerk
  • Darrell Willis, Wildlands Division Chief
  • Dan Fraijo, Prescott Fire Chief
  • Gov. Jan Brewer
  • Scott Hunt, Arizona State Forester
  • Tom Horne, Arizona Attorney General
  • Robert Halliday, Arizona Department of Public Safety Director
  • Wendy Smith-Reeve, Arizona Division of Emergency Management Director
  • Chip Davis, Yavapai County Board of Supervisors Chairman
  • Ana Wayman-Trujillo, Yavapai County Board of Supervisor Clerk
  • Scott Mascher, Yavapai County Sheriff

This is the first claim filed by any of the families of the Granite Mountain Hot Shots.

At this point, nobody served in connection with the claim has issued a public response. A spokesman for Yavapai County told 3TV's Mike Watkiss only that the claim is being reviewed.

According to Arizona Revised Statute 12-821.01, a notice of claim must be filed within 180 days of the incident.

While a notice of claim is not a lawsuit, it is the first step in filing a suit. It is designed to inform government agencies and public entities that a lawsuit against them is possible and offers a settlement option acceptable to the claimant.

"The claim shall contain facts sufficient to permit the public entity or public employee to understand the basis on which liability is claimed. The claim shall also contain a specific amount for which the claim can be settled and the facts supporting that amount," the statute reads.

Once the notice of claim has been served, a claimant, in this case Marcia McKee, must wait 60 days before filing a formal lawsuit. At that point, the claim is "deemed denied," and legal action can move forward. Those served can deny the claim in writing any time during those 60 days. That, too, opens the door for litigation.

Link: Read the entire notice of claim (PDF file)