Entire lawsuit dismissed by judge in Olympic National Park mountain goat death

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

TACOMA — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a widow who sued the U.S. government over the Oct. 16, 2010, death of her husband, who was killed by a mountain goat in Olympic National Park.

Federal Western District Court Judge Robert Bryan of Tacoma ruled that the park was not obligated to take a “mandatory course of action” even if it knew the goat had been aggressive in the past.

Bryan had dismissed Susan Chadd's final negligence claim against the federal government Oct. 10.

The claim had asserted that the park failed “to summon a rescue helicopter in a timely manner” after Chadd's husband, Robert Boardman, was fatally gored in the thigh on Switchback Trail on Klahhane Ridge while trying to protect his wife and their friend Pat Willits of Port Angeles from the 370-pound male mountain goat that was harassing them before Bob Boardman separated from the party and the animal followed him.

On Tuesday, Bryan dismissed the entire lawsuit, saying there were no remaining claims, after he refused a motion for reconsideration of an Aug. 20 ruling in which he had dismissed most of Chadd's claims.

Bryan had ruled Aug. 20 that the park can't be sued for its decisions.

“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 in that ruling.

Claim rejected

In his ruling, Bryan rejected the claim filed by Chadd's lawyer, personal-injury attorney Stephen Bulzomi of Tacoma, that the park should have taken more direct action in dealing with the mountain goat, which was believed to have a history of being aggressive with hikers, after hazing the animal did not work.

Bryan said new evidence presented by Bulzomi did not point to “any mandatory course of action” by Olympic National Park, such as removing or killing the mountain goat after hazing the animal did not work.

The mountain goat was killed by a park ranger the same day Boardman died.

Bulzomi had argued that unredacted emails from 2009 and testimony of former Olympic National Park Superintendent Karen Gustin and former park Chief of Natural Resources Cat Hoffman confirmed that the park knew of a “legitimate safety issue” involving the animal and that adverse conditioning had failed.

“At its core, plaintiff's new evidence again focuses on the timing of when to move forward with additional management options, like removal or destruction of the goat,” Bryan said.

“The new evidence does not point to any mandatory course of action on a particular time frame,” Bryan said.

Chadd could not be reached for comment Wednesday, and neither Bulzomi nor Olympic National Park spokeswoman Barb Maynes would comment on the ruling.

Appeal possible

Bulzomi has until Dec. 17 to file an appeal with the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

Park officials have claimed that they could not identify the mountain goat as the same animal the park has referred to as “Klahhane Billy” in emails and park ranger reports made available to the Peninsula Daily News under a Freedom of Information Act request.

Klahhane Billy was a moniker repeatedly referred to in Chadd's lawsuit.

The park had determined that Chadd's husband — a registered nurse, musician and educator — had not acted aggressively toward the animal.

Witnesses said Boardman heroically had placed himself between other hikers and the mountain goat, which followed him for about an hour before charging him and spearing him in the femoral artery with its horn.

The animal stood over Boardman for about a half-hour, making it impossible for Chadd and others to reach him, according to park ranger reports that said he died of blood loss in about five minutes.

A necropsy on the animal, which according to park documents was older and heavier than average mountain goats, showed that it was healthy and in rut for mating season.

Chadd had told a park ranger that Boardman, a hiking enthusiast, 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 park records.

Unspecified damages

She; her son, Jacob Haverfield; and Boardman's estate filed the federal lawsuit seeking unspecified damages Nov. 1, 2011.

The federal government denied claims of more than $10 million earlier in 2011.

Mountain goats were introduced into the Olympic Mountains for hunters in the 1920s — before creation of Olympic National Park — and now number about 400 in the park.

Boardman's death was the first fatal animal attack in Olympic National Park since it was established in 1938.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: October 18. 2012 12:25AM
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