August 25, 2017

Landowner Must be on Solid Ground to Claim Damages

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A landowner, Sheek, owned 53 wooded acres in Brown County, Indiana. Sheek entered into a contract with a logging company to have specific trees cut down. The logging company began harvesting the timber in December 2009 with the use of heavy equipment called skidders. When the logging began, the ground was frozen. However, the weather warmed in mid-December and the ground quickly thawed, causing the skidders to sink. At that time, the logging was approximately two-3rds finished. Some ruts were three feet deep and three feet wide. 

Sheek was upset. 

Eventually, Sheek sued the logging company for damage to her property. Evidence was introduced of a remediation cost of $75,000. Sheek, however, was seeking the difference in the appraised value of the property showing $150,000 to $400,000 in damages. The trial court used the cost of remediation as the measure of damages, and subtracted the value of the remediation already done. The trial court assessed total damages at approximately $55,000.

The Court of Appeal affirmed. It agreed with the trial court that the damage to the Sheek property was temporary and as a result, the calculation for damages should be remediation or repair. Since the damages were not permanent, the Court of Appeals did not agree with the use of the change in appraised value as a measure of damages.

The Sheek case points to the need to firmly establish damages, and provides a strategy for defending against such cases involving damage to real property. Sheek v. Mark A. Morin Logging, Inc., 993 N.E. 2d 280 (Ind. Ct. App. 2013).