By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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The rejection makes it certain, according to his widow’s lawyer, that a lawsuit against the federal government will be filed in November in federal District Court in Tacoma.
Bob Boardman, a 63-year-old, multitalented registered nurse, was killed by a 370-pound mountain goat Oct. 16, 2010, in Olympic National Park while hiking a well-trekked trail on Klahhane Ridge with his wife, Susan Chadd of Port Angeles, and a friend, Pat Willits, also of Port Angeles.
Boardman was also a writer, woodworker and musician who lived in Port Townsend until the early 2000s, then moved to Port Angeles.
On May 1, Chadd, her son Jacob Haverfield and Boardman’s estate filed claims totaling $10,022,700 alleging that the park is liable for Boardman’s death.
“The claim alleges wrongful death as a result of actions of the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, concerning management of the mountain goat that fatally injured Mr. Boardman on
Oct. 16, 2010,” Kelly R. Powell, attorney-adviser for Interior’s Office of the Solicitor, said in her administrative ruling.
“Our investigation of this matter reveals no evidence of any negligent or wrongful act on the part of one or more employees of the [National Park Service].”
Personal injury lawyer John Messina of Tacoma, representing Chadd, said Wednesday that he and three of his law partners will meet Monday to decide when to file the lawsuit, which is already in draft form at eight pages.
“We feel there is ample evidence of negligence on the part of many people in the park, and their denial was not a good-faith denial,” Messina said, refusing to elaborate on that evidence until the lawsuit is filed.
“If they have specific evidence of freedom from fault, that ‘we did not do anything wrong, here is what happened,’ I would anticipate they would put that in their denial,” which he said was “not a direct response to anything in our claims.”
Park officials would not comment on Powell’s ruling.
“We expect this to be under litigation, and our attorneys decided we won’t be having a comment,” park spokeswoman Barb Maynes said Tuesday.
Messina said it is “a specious argument” to suggest visitors to Olympic National Park should accept the risk of encountering wild animals while in the park.
“This is not that wild,” he said, calling the goat that killed Boardman a “rogue” animal that the park should have done something about.
“Thousands and thousands and thousands of people and kids visit the park every year. This is a federal reserve created for the purpose of the use of the citizens of the United States.
“You don’t just throw them in there with rogue animals and expect them to defend themselves.
“Things happen that you do not anticipate, but this animal gave plenty of notice.”
By establishing management rules and regulations for human interactions with animals, park officials “recognize a duty to protect the public,” Messina added.
“The federal government requires protection from these animals that are unruly like this animal was.”
A revised mountain goat management plan for the park that includes more stringent responses to aggressive mountain goats was released July 7 in response to Boardman’s death, park wildlife biologist Patty Happe said in an earlier interview.
Park officials knew of at least one disruptive goat on Klahhane Ridge but have said they have no way of singling out the goat that killed Boardman as a goat they have had problems with.
On Sept. 6, a park ranger operating under the new rules killed a mountain goat that for three days had refused to leave a campsite near Upper Royal Basin near the park’s eastern boundary.
Chadd, who did not return calls for comment about the ruling by the Solicitor’s Office, said in an earlier interview that the park was “very irresponsible” to suggest that throwing rocks would ward off the animal that killed her husband.
She told a park ranger that Boardman 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 records of the incident obtained by the Peninsula Daily News under a Freedom of Information Act request.
Chadd said in a subsequent interview that she couldn’t be sure if the goat her husband had contacted the park about was the same animal that killed him.
Still, Messina said Wednesday he has “ample evidence” to prove the park was negligent in connection with Boardman’s death.
The goat that killed Boardman approached Boardman, Chadd and Willits while they were at lunch during a hike on Switchback Trail.
The animal circled them, pawed at the ground and made other aggressive gestures, Willits said in her written statement to the park.
After eating, Boardman told Chadd and Willits to “keep going” while the animal followed beside and directly behind Boardman.
After about a mile, it gored him in the thigh. Boardman died from blood loss in about five minutes, park reports of the incident said.
He had not acted aggressively toward the animal, according to park reports.
A park ranger shot the goat dead the same day. A necropsy showed it was healthy.
Boardman, a diabetes educator and accomplished guitarist, writer and artist, was honored as a hero at a memorial service attended by 350 mourners.
The rejected wrongful-death claims included $5 million for Boardman’s estate, $3 million for Chadd and $2 million for Haverfield.
Personal injury claims totaling $22,700 include expenses for counseling sessions, massage therapy, newspaper obituaries, emergency room procedures and funeral expenses.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-417-3536 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.