Government says it’s not at fault for goat-goring death in Olympic National Park

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — The federal government has denied it was negligent in the 2010 mountain-goat-goring death of Bob Boardman and says his family is not entitled to damages because the plaintiffs are at fault for the death.

The assertions are contained in U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan’s Jan. 9 answer to a Nov. 1, 2011, wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Boardman’s wife, Susan Chadd; his stepson, Jacob Haverfield; and Boardman’s estate against the U.S. government in federal district court in Tacoma.

The lawsuit, which asks for a judgment of an unspecified amount that “will justly compensate them for their losses,” says Olympic National Park was negligent for not removing the 370-pound mountain goat from the park after it repeatedly harassed and threatened hikers on Klahhane Ridge’s well-traveled Switchback Trail, where Boardman, 63, was killed Oct. 16, 2010.

“The injuries and damages alleged in plaintiffs’ amended complaint were not actually or proximately caused by or contributed to by any negligent or wrongful act or omission of any agent, employee or representative of the United States,” Durkan, of Seattle, said in her filing.

“Plaintiffs’ injuries and damages, if any, were caused by their own negligent acts or omissions, wrongdoing or failure to exercise due care on their part.”

Damages will be determined at trial, a date for which has not been set.

Claims filed last summer with the federal government, which denied the claims, totaled more than $10 million.

Park officials have claimed they cannot identify the mountain goat that killed Boardman as the mountain goat that the park has referred to as Klahhane Billy and that is repeatedly named in the lawsuit.

The animal followed Boardman for about a half-mile before fatally spearing Boardman’s femoral artery with its horn.

A park ranger shot the mountain goat dead that same day.

Boardman, a musician and registered nurse, had not acted aggressively toward the goat, according to the park’s investigation of the incident.

U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Emily Langlie would not elaborate on Durkan’s claim that the plaintiffs were at fault.

“We are limited to our filings and what we would say in court,” Langlie said Tuesday.

“We simply stand by what we filed in court, and we would not expand on that.”

Tacoma personal-injury lawyer Steve Bulzomi of Messina Bulzomi Christensen is representing Chadd, Haverfield and Boardman’s estate.

It is common in wrongful-death cases for the accused party to claim others were at fault, he said Tuesday.

“Realistically, Mrs. Chadd was present,” Bulzomi said.

“They could say she didn’t do something she could or should have done.

“We don’t think there is any evidence to support their claim.”

The government also could blame Bob Boardman himself in future pleadings, Bulzomi said.

Boardman’s “simple presence on the mountain” is not enough to prove he was negligent in dealing with the mountain goat, Bulzomi said.

“He acted reasonably under the circumstances,” he said.

“It was following him, harassing them, and he tried to get the others away and protected them.”

Chadd could not be reached for comment.

“She’s struggling,” Bulzomi said, “still trying to piece things back together and doing things to take care of herself.”

Chadd, Boardman and their friend Pat Willits of Port Angeles for about an hour were “being pursued and harassed by Klahhane Billy, who walked directly beside or behind Boardman” before Chadd and Willits walked ahead “and suddenly heard a scream,” according to the lawsuit.

“They rushed back to where Boardman and the goat were and saw Boardman lying on the ground and the goat standing over him.”

A joint status report that will outline a proposed schedule for discovery and court proceedings will be filed by Bulzomi and the U.S. Attorney’s Office by Tuesday, Bulzomi said Wednesday.

Federal District Court Judge Robert Bryan will follow that with a scheduling order for court proceedings in the case.

“Bryan likes to have trials within a year of filing, so that’s kind of a loose time frame,” Bulzomi said.

Chadd, Haverfield and Boardman’s estate filed $10,022,700 in wrongful-death and personal-injury claims directly against the federal government last summer that the federal government rejected.

“We put down $10 million because it is in the range of damages suffered,” Bulzomi said.

That amount “is not necessarily a good guide” for determining the amount of damages that would be awarded at the trial, he added.

“In this district, there have been seven- and eight-figure results” in wrongful-death cases, Bulzomi said.

“Every case is different, of course.”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-417-3536 or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 26. 2012 5:42PM
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