Timber trespass: potential liability for 3x damages

Individuals and businesses can find themselves involved in a timber trespass claim in Oregon or Washington. Timber trespass arises when someone cuts trees or shrubs belonging to someone else. Sometimes timber trespass results from actual theft of commercial timber or the intentional killing of trees standing in the way of a neighbor’s scenic view, but, more often, it is the result of a dispute over who owns the property on which the timber sits. Regardless, few people realize how the risks presented by a timber trespass claim.

Disputes involving timber trespass can arise among neighbors, developers, contractors, landscapers, logging companies – really anyone who clears trees or shrubs could be running a risk of facing serious penalties. Business owners of all kinds in Oregon and Washington need to be aware of the laws regarding timber trespass. Mistakes in this regard can be extremely costly.

What is Timber Trespass?

Timber trespass refers to the damaging, cutting or carrying off any tree, timber or shrub from another property. This other property can be privately or publicly owned.

How Severe Are Damage Awards for Timber Trespass?

Triple damages. That is the law. When a plaintiff brings a successful claim of timber trespass, the law in Oregon calls for “treble damages,” which is three times the actual damages the plaintiff suffered.

Oregon and Washington are of one mind on the matter, using almost the exact same statutory language. When a plaintiff brings a successful claim against a defendant for intentional timber trespass, Oregon law states “it shall be given for treble the amount of damages claimed, or assessed for the trespass.” ORS 105.810. In Washington, “any judgment for the plaintiff shall be for treble the amount of damages claimed or assessed.” RCW 64.12.030.

The statutes in both states also include attorneys’ fees as part of a plaintiff’s recovery. ORS 105.810(2). RCW 4.24.630.

Protect Yourself

The stakes are too high to be cavalier when it comes to cutting and clearing. Make sure you know where you or your employees or contractors are cutting. If there is any doubt, spend the time and money to clarify where the property boundary is located.

If you intend to cut trees on property that is in dispute, obtain legal counsel to advise you of the best course of action. Sometimes you will want to resolve property disputes before cutting.

Anytime you believe you have a timber trespass claim, or find yourself defending one, having the right lawyer is important. There are important considerations that need to be addressed early on in terms of evidence, experts, damages, and insurance coverage that experienced counsel know how to handle.

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