“Had we known about the danger of avalanches we never would have agreed to live there.”
But Pia Sivertsen says she never learned about that risk and as a result her two-year-old daughter, Nikoline Røkenes, was killed when an avalanche struck the family’s home and ten others on Dec. 9, 2015. The young girl was rescued after being buried in snow, but died a day later in a Tromsø hospital and now her parents have filed a lawsuit seeking 4.4 million kroner from officials they say were negligent about the avalanche risks they knew existed in the area.
Sivertsen and Kim Rune Røkenes say city and other officials and property owners have had information dating back to the early 1990s suggesting a disaster like the one that killed their daughter was possible. But while some initial work on risk assessment and protection measures occurred after getting the initial data, the issue remained largely dormant until the avalanche occurred.
“It is primarily Longyearbyen municipal government, which was the land owner and did not inform the tenants of the danger and who did not do anything about it,” Christian Lundin, an attorney for the parents, told NRK. “Secondly, it is The Governor of Svalbard which also did not initiate evacuation. And the latter is Store Norske which previously owned the homes.”
Lundin sent notification of the parents’ intent to pursue legal action to the three parties during the summer of 2016, and officials at the city and Store Norske have stated they hoped to negotiate a settlement without going to court, but the amount the parents are seeking wasn’t defined until now. The claim includes future loss of income, reimbursement for costs, and pain and suffering for the parents, as well as reimbursement for severance pay and reimbursement for parents Kim Rune Røkenes and Pia Sivertsen, as well as reimbursement compensation for their daughter Pernille (then 3) who was also buried and survived.
The Norwegian Bureau for the Investigation of Police Affairs ruled last November that no criminal offense was committed by any governing entities or Store Norske. But Lundin said at the time the ruling would strengthen a civil claim.
“In order to punish someone, there must be approximately 100 percent probability that they have done something wrong. In order to arrive at a compensation case, you must be able to prove this by more than 50 percent. The other difference is that in order to be punished you must have acted intentionally. In a compensation claim you must have acted negligently. In this case there should have been an alert about the danger of an avalanche, there should have been an evacuation and so on.”