Court of Appeals: Div I – Must Show Intentional AND Unreasonable Trespass to Get Treble Damages
King County hired Michels Pipeline Construction (who hired Pipe Experts, LLC) to go onto residents’ private property, dig down to the sewer line, fix sewer pipes and replace the excavation.
The Clipses lived in the area where the work was to be performed. Excavation of their property was planned, though there was some question as to whether they were informed that someone was going to come onto their property and dig it up. They claimed that excavation began on their property before they had given permission. Their sewage line backed up and spewed waste water into their home. They sued Michels Pipeline and Pipe Experts under the wrongful trespass statute (which can entitle a plaintiff to treble damages). The trial court granted summary judgment to the Clipses, concluding that the Clipses needed only show that the contractors lacked authorization to come onto their property. The defendants appealed.
The Court of Appeals interpreted the trespass statute to require that the plaintiffs show BOTH that an alleged trespasser (1) intentionally and (2) unreasonably trespassed. The case was remanded for trial.