Federal judge dismisses most lawsuit claims in fatal mountain goat attack in Olympic National Park
Peninsula Daily News
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Even if it seems unfair, the park can't be sued for the decisions it made, the judge ruled.
Robert Boardman, 63, of Port Angeles was trying to protect his wife and other hikers when the 370-pound male mountain goat fatally gored him in the thigh on a trail at Klahhane Ridge on Oct. 16, 2010.
The goat is believed to have been one that harassed hikers in the park for years, and although staff tried various techniques for scaring it off and posted signs warning of the danger, they didn't take steps that might have prevented Boardman's death — killing or relocating the animal.
His wife, Susan Chadd, sued, accusing the government of negligence.
She also alleged that the park failed to act quickly once the attack was reported — the one claim that was not dismissed in Judge Robert Bryan's ruling in U.S. District Court in Tacoma this week.
Bryan dismissed the rest of the claims, saying that even though the park could have acted more quickly to kill or relocate the goat, its actions are immune from lawsuits under the Federal Tort Claims Act because they involved an exercise of discretion related to public policy.
“Even in sad cases like this one, the court is duty bound to uphold the law, however difficult or unjust the result appears,” Bryan said.
One of Chadd's lawyers, Stephen Bulzomi, said that while he disagrees with the decision, it is not immediately appealable because one of the claims survived.
“It certainly circumscribes the scope of the trial,” he said.
First fatal animal attack
Boardman's death was the first fatal animal attack in the history of Olympic National Park, which was established in 1938.
The National Park Service had denied it was negligent in the death of Boardman and said his family was not entitled to damages.
Boardman — a musician, registered nurse and diabetes educator — had not acted aggressively toward the animal, according to the park's investigation of the incident.
Witnesses said Boardman died a hero: He positioned himself between the charging mountain goat and other hikers on the trail, warning them to get away.
The mountain goat then stood over Boardman for about 30 minutes, staring and pawing at the ground, making it impossible for Chadd and other hikers to reach him, according to park ranger reports of the incident.
Boardman died from blood loss in about five minutes, the reports said. The goat was later shot and killed by a ranger.
His widow told a park ranger that Boardman, a frequent hiker in the area, had complained to the park several times about an aggressive mountain goat at Klahhane Ridge “and couldn't understand why the park hadn't taken action with this goat,” according to records of the incident obtained by the Peninsula Daily News under a Freedom of Information Act request.
The wrongful-death lawsuit was filed Nov. 1, 2011, by Boardman's wife; his stepson, Jacob Haverfield; and Boardman's estate against the U.S. government in the Tacoma court.
Monetary claims filed by the family earlier in 2011 against the federal government — which denied those claims — totaled more than $10 million.
The lawsuit, which asked for a judgment of an unspecified amount that “will justly compensate them for their losses,” said Olympic National Park was negligent for not removing the mountain goat from the park after it repeatedly harassed and threatened hikers on Klahhane Ridge's well-traveled Switchback Trail, where Boardman was killed.
U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan denied the family's claim in court papers last Jan. 9.
“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 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.”
Olympic National Park officials have claimed they could not identify the mountain goat that killed Boardman as the mountain goat that the park has referred to as "Klahhane Billy" and which was 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 goat dead later that day.
A necropsy on the animal showed it was healthy and in rut for the mating season, park spokeswoman Barb Maynes said.
She said it was not known if that was a cause for the attack.
“It certainly could have been a contributing factor,” Maynes said, “but there have been many other goats in rut, and this has not happened.”
There are about 2,000 to 3,000 mountain goats in Washington state. They have razor-sharp horns and hooves, and furry bodies covered by long, white hair.
Their habitat stretches from the northern border through the Cascade Mountains to the Oregon border.
They were introduced into the Olympic Mountains from Alaska in the 1920s for hunters. About 400 mountain goats are in Olympic National Park.
After Boardman's death, park rangers warned hikers to keep at least 50 yards away from goats and not to urinate on trails.
The park said the urine creates a long salt lick, attracting the animals.
Last month, reports of mountain goats being aggressive toward hikers prompted Olympic National Forest officials to close a popular trail on Mount Ellinor in Mason County near Hoodsport for two weeks.
The attack against Boardman two years ago occurred about 75 miles northeast of Mount Ellinor.
Last September, an Olympic National Park ranger operating under new mountain goat management rules shot and killed a mountain goat that had refused to leave a campsite near the park's Upper Royal Basin for three days.
Last modified: August 22. 2012 10:04PM