Supreme court doubles damages in Washington County timber harvest case

Posted Dec. 23, 2012, at 3:14 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court last week doubled the damages owed a Florida woman for the timber harvest trespass four years ago of 18 acres on her land in Steuben.

JoAnne Woodworth now will receive more than $134,000 instead of the $67,000 or so she originally was awarded, according to the justices unanimous decision dated Dec. 18.

Woodworth, who was raised in Gouldsboro and lives in Sarasota, Fla., had planned to build a cabin and retire on the property, according to a previously published report. She told a district court judge in May 2010 the damage done to her property had “ruined that dream.”

Woodworth owns property in Steuben, separated from land owned by David Robertson, who is now deceased, by a parcel owned by a third party who was not named in the opinion.

In 2008, Robertson contracted with David Crane and Crane’s Contract Cutting, Inc. of Lamoine to harvest timber on his property, the opinion said.

Crane’s Contract Cutting in turn contracted with Paul Gaddis, a licensed forester who lives in East Machias, to identify Robertson’s property lines.

On Nov. 15, 2008, Gaddis employed a series of substandard procedures in identifying the boundaries of the Robertson property, and mistakenly marked a portion of Woodworth’s land as part of the Robertson property.

Gaddis and Crane pleaded guilty in 2010 to civil charges related to the timber harvest lodged by the Washington County district attorney’s office.

The men were ordered to pay fines and restitution of about $67,000 to Woodworth, according to previously published reports.

While those charges were pending, Woodworth filed a lawsuit against the men in Washington County Superior Court.

Superior Court Justice Kevin Cuddy ruled in November 2011 following a civil trial that the value of the trees cut from Woodworth’s property was $44,000, and the cost to restore the property was $23,180. The judge concluded that Woodworth’s actual damages totaled $67,180, which represented the combined market value of the wood cut and the cost of regeneration, according to the state Supreme Court’s decision.

State laws called for double damages to be imposed when negligence is found and treble damages to be imposed for intentional or knowing conduct, Justice Jon Levy wrote for the court in the 13-page opinion.

“[Cuddy] found Gaddis was negligent for failing to exercise proper care in identifying the boundaries of the Robertson property,” Levy said. “Crane’s Contract Cutting was negligent for relying on Gaddis’ work. Robertson, who failed to appear at trial, was negligent for having engaged Crane’s Contract Cutting.”

The judge erred by not doubling Woolworth’s damages,the opinion concluded.

The justices did not hear oral arguments in the case but made its decision based on briefs submitted in October.

It was unclear Sunday whether Woodworth would be owed restitution plus the double damage award from the civil case or simple a total of about $134,000.

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