Washington to pay $8 million to settle abuse lawsuit

Suit contended that it failed to adequately probe claims by six siblings

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OLYMPIA — Washington state has agreed to pay a combined $8 million to settle a lawsuit filed by six King County siblings who said they were abused and neglected in the care of a family friend while the state failed to properly investigate 17 separate tips.

The settlement in the 2012 lawsuit was reached Tuesday, The Seattle Times reported.

The children are now between 9 and 21 years old. In the lawsuit, they said they were repeatedly beaten and tortured between 2008 and 2011. They alleged the state allowed the abuse to continue by failing to properly investigate 17 separate tips to Child Protective Services, a division of the state Department of Social and Health Services.

The children were living with the friend because they otherwise would have been homeless. The lawsuit alleged she denied them food and access to showers and forced them to attack each other.

"Countless concerned citizens -- day care workers, school counselors, even a hair-salon worker -- picked up the phone and reported the concerns they had," said lawyer Julie Kays, who represented the children along with co-worker Lincoln Beauregard. "Time and again CPS failed to act on these concerns and failed to protect the children."

The Times reports the friend, Maria Gonzales Esquivel, is jailed awaiting trial on multiple assault charges involving one of the children and the child's father. Trial is set for June.

DSHS spokeswoman Mindy Chambers says CPS received more than 41,500 reports of abuse in 2013 alone and works hard to respond but inevitably makes mistakes.

"Any time our practice is not perfect, we have to make a good-faith effort to settle," she said. "We hope the settlement money will be used for the benefit of these children -- for education, for treatment, for what they need as they move into and through adulthood."

Also this week, Washington agreed to pay $3 million to a woman who says the state allowed sexual abuse to continue by not adequately investigating when she gave birth at age 12.

The Times says the timing of the settlements appeared coincidental.