No Strict Liability for Logging: Court Issues Favorable Ruling for Timber Industry

July 2nd, 2014 - Carmichael Clark

The Washington Court of Appeals recently held that timber companies cannot be held strictly liable for their timber harvest activities. Carmichael Clark represented one of its long-time timber company clients in earlier stages of the case.

This case arose out of a massive storm that occurred in early January 2009. Significant flooding and landslides occurred, particularly in Lewis County in southwest Washington. Some of those landslides damaged property in the Glenoma area of Lewis County.

Several Glenoma area property owners brought suit against various timber companies owning land in the area that had been logged in the years before the storm. The plaintiffs argued the logging caused the landslides that had damaged their property. One legal theory advanced by the plaintiffs was that the timber companies were strictly liable for their timber harvest activities. Strict liability means that a person is liable for the damage they cause from their activity no matter what precautions they take and no matter how careful they are. This is a lower threshold than the usual negligence standard in which plaintiffs must prove the defendant failed to exercise proper case. Thus, if the strict liability theory was successful, timber companies would be held liable for any damage caused by their timber harvests, no matter how carefully those harvests were conducted.

However, the trial court dismissed the plaintiffs’ strict liability claim. The trial court’s rationale was based on arguments developed and asserted by Carmichael Clark attorneys. The plaintiffs appealed the dismissal of their strict liability claim. The appellate court agreed the strict liability theory was properly dismissed by the trial court. Thus, the appellate court ruled that logging is not a strict liability activity. This is the first appellate case in Washington to address the issue of whether timber harvest activities are strict liability activities, and one of only a few such cases in the nation.

The rejection of strict liability is an important decision for Washington. The timber industry is very important to the State of Washington. It represents a large part of the state’s economy and provides significant funding for Washington’s public schools. And the timber industry is historically and culturally important to the state as well. The timber industry would have been negatively impacted if the court had ruled in favor of strict liability. The cost of timber activities would have dramatically increased, making many harvest activities prohibitively expensive. Instead, the court of appeals decision preserves an industry that is economically vital to Washington.

View the court of appeals decision in the case of Hurley v. Campbell Menasha, LLC. 

Disclaimer: This article and blog are intended to inform the reader of general legal principles applicable to the subject area. They are not intended to provide legal advice regarding specific problems or circumstances. Readers should consult with competent counsel with regard to specific situations.

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