On August 31, 2023, Michael Parme and Stevie Baris obtained a unanimous defense verdict in an action alleging causes of action for negligence, trespass and private nuisance filed in the Napa County Superior Court.
This case arose from a contractor’s mistaken trespass onto the property of James Raymond (“plaintiff”). Jacob Songer dba Inferno Guard (“defendant”) was sued for negligence, trespass, trespass to timber, and private nuisance for entering onto plaintiff’s property and felling nine (9) “heritage” trees, including two incense cedars and a Douglas fir tree, each allegedly reaching as much as 70-80 feet in height. These trees had been impacted by the September 2020 Glass Fire wildfire which spread across Napa County—a fire which had reduced the structures, including a three-unit residential structure, on plaintiff’s property to debris and ashes.
Months later, believing it to be a separate property upon which defendant had been retained to remove dead and/or otherwise unviable trees impacted by the Glass Fire, defendant mistakenly entered onto plaintiff’s property and felled what Mr. Songer believed to be dead trees. Witnessing defendant felling trees on his property, plaintiff immediately sought legal representation and hired a certified arborist. The arborist opined days after the trees were cut that they were, in fact, living trees that had been felled by defendant.
Over the course of two years, the plaintiff repeatedly claimed that the trespass entitled him to substantial economic and non-economic damages. Plaintiff further claimed entitlement to statutory double damages for trespass to timber. Defendant disputed neither the entry, without permission, onto plaintiff’s property, nor the felling of nine (9) trees thereon. Although the alleged negligence was stipulated, causation and damages were both hotly contested. The defense served a reasonable statutory offer, which plaintiff rejected.
The case went to trial on August 24, 2023. Plaintiff, in closing argument, requested the jury award $512,800.00, which would have, based upon statutory double damages, potentially subjected defendant to a verdict in excess of $1,000,000.00.
After a very brief deliberation, the jury returned a unanimous and complete defense verdict, finding defendant was not a substantial factor in causing plaintiff’s injury. Interestingly, the jury only had one question during deliberations, which was: “whether they could find the defendant – who had stipulated to negligence, was not negligent.”