Wash. Rev. Code § 64.12.040 limits a plaintiff's recovery to single damages. But this provision is inapplicable when the trespasser is aware of a property dispute before removing or injuring the plants. Where a person has knowledge of a bona fide boundary dispute, and thereafter consciously, deliberately, and intentionally enters upon the disputed area for the purpose of destroying, and does destroy, trees or other property which cannot be replaced, such acts are neither casual nor involuntary, nor can they be justified upon the basis of probable cause for belief by the tortfeasor that he owned the land, but, on the contrary, are without lawful authority and will subject such person to treble damages as provided by statute.
Property owners sought damages from an adjoining property owner for trespass and nuisance, alleging that the adjoining owner interfered with their easement rights. The adjoining owner asserted as affirmative defenses that the easement's scope was limited to an existing driveway and that the easement was extinguished by adverse possession or abandonment. The adjoining owner also asserted several counterclaims. Claiming adverse possession, the adjoining owner sought to quiet title to three small portions of the plaintiffs' land, including a piece of land on which the adjoining owner had planted and maintained landscaping and another piece of land on which she had planted a tree and other vegetation. In addition, the adjoining owner requested damages for injury to various plants and for the loss of lateral support to her bluff, which had collapsed. The King County Superior Court, Washington, concluded appellant landowners' purported easement failed to comply with the statute of frauds and dismissed their claims against respondent neighbor on summary judgment. The trial court quieted title in the neighbor to some of the property she sought, awarded her $21,130 for plant damage, and rejected one of her adverse possession claims and her claim for loss of lateral support. Both parties appealed.
Did the trial court err in its decision?
The trial court erred in granting the neighbor's summary judgment motion. The neighbor did adversely possess the disputed area as she used the land in ways that would cause a reasonable person to assume she was the owner. She treated the land as an owner. However, as to another portion of the property, the trial court did not err in finding that the neighbor failed to establish adverse possession. The neighbor was properly awarded treble damages for plant damage, Wash. Rev. Code § 64.12.040, as the landowners did not have probable cause to believe the plants were on their property. The injured plants were not in the "street" in front of the neighbor's house, and the trial court erred in awarding her damages for them. The trial court did not err by ruling that expert evidence was required to prove the landowners' actions caused the damage to the neighbor's shoreline bluff.