Franke, Schultz & Mullen, PC | Henry County, MO Jury Returns Verdict Favorable to FSM Client in Statutory Trespass Action<br >  
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Henry County, MO Jury Returns Verdict Favorable to FSM Client in Statutory Trespass Action

Pursuant to an Agricultural Lease, plaintiff Jim Philpott rented defendant Freddie Anderson almost 40 acres of land to farm, which plaintiff required to be limed to enrich the soil.  Mr. Anderson advised Mr. Philpott that the remains of corn stocks in the field would need to be mowed before his contractor would run his equipment on the land and lime the field.  When Mr. Anderson’s worker later mowed the corn stocks, he also mowed a disputed portion of an idle area along a field road on the edge of the field that had been taken out of production.  Plaintiff Philpott and his wife plaintiff Mary Lou Philpott claimed that more than 1500 trees were destroyed when this idle area was mowed and filed suit under a Missouri strict liability trespass statute allowing for tree damage to be tripled.  Mr. Philpott admitted that he had only planted and primarily only maintained two of those trees.  Mr. Anderson admitted that those two trees had been mowed and offered to compensate plaintiffs for that damage. 

At trial, plaintiffs claimed that the damaged trees were “nursery stock” being grown in anticipation of plaintiffs building a new residence on that property.  They presented evidence from an expert forester who testified that the cost to replace the destroyed trees based on pricing from multiple nurseries was $61,200.  They presented further evidence from an expert real estate appraiser that the diminution in value to the real estate from the trees in the idle area being mowed, which was the measure of damages, was the amount of the tree replacement cost calculated by the forester. 

Defendant Anderson presented evidence that he had a right to access the leased field by use of the field road that was mowed and a portion of the idle area at issue plaintiffs claimed had been out of production since 2006 had been certified to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to still be in production up until the time it was partially mowed.  He presented further evidence from an expert arborist that the trees plaintiffs claimed had been destroyed would not have existed in the numbers, size and variety claimed, would have grown back and had little value and an expert real estate appraiser testified based on local comparable sales that the value of the real estate was not diminished by the claimed tree damage. 

The jury deliberated for less than two hours before awarding plaintiffs only $5,000 in damages, rather than their claimed $61,200 in damages.  After the damage award was then tripled by the Court pursuant to the trespass statute, it still fell below a prior Offer of Judgment by defendant resulting in plaintiffs owing defendant costs.  FSM attorney Nick Hillyard represented defendant Anderson.