Experienced hiker and registered nurse Bob Boardman was gored to death by a 370-pound mountain goat in Olympic National Park in October, 2010. Boardman's wife, Susan Chadd, accompanied him on the fateful outing, and in the aftermath of her husband's untimely demise filed a lawsuit against the federal government claiming the "National Park Service failed to act on numerous complaints regarding this particular animal, failed to follow its own policies and procedures regarding hazardous animals, failed to relocate or euthanize the goat, and failed to properly respond once the attack had been reported," according to documents filed in the case.
On the afternoon of October 16, 63-year-old Bob Boardman was hiking a trail of switchbacks with his wife Susan Chadd and their friend Pat Willis at Klahhane Ridge, roughly 20 miles south of Port Angeles in Olympic National Park. When the trio paused for lunch, they were joined by an unexpected guest: a surly 370-pound, 8-year-old mountain goat. The goat stalked the hikers, pawed the ground, and bleated menacingly. Boardman, an experienced Olympic National Park outdoorsman and no stranger to confrontations with angry mountain goats, ordered his companions to forge ahead while the animal followed next to him for nearly a mile. Then tragedy struck. The goat lowered his horns and gored Boardman in the thigh, severing his femoral artery. He bled to death within minutes.
Boardman, according to Olympic National Park rangers, was the first animal-caused fatality in the park's 73-year history. And yet, because he lodged several complaints about aggressive goat behavior prior to the deadly encounter, Boardman's estate is now filing more than $10 million worth of wrongful-death and personal-injury claims against the park.
As noted, Boardman was an experienced hiker. He'd also reportedly warned officials of potentially dangerous goats in Olympic National Park in the past. As court documents filed in the case highlight, it wasn't the only warnings they received.
"Around 2004, Olympic's Wildlife Branch Chief and biologist Dr. Patti Happe, and other park officials, became aware of increasing reports of habituated behavior of mountain goats in the Hurricane Ridge area of the park," court documents state. "By 2006, the park began receiving reports of aggressive behavior by the mountain goats, including 'standing their ground, following or chasing humans, pawing the ground, and rearing up.'"
"[A]fter the park received further reports of increased habituation and possibly aggressive behavior from mountain goats, park rangers and field personnel hiked into the areas with high reported goat-human interactions to observe and monitor the goats. They found that the goats were 'demonstrating progressively habituated and sometimes aggressive behavior,'" court documents continue. "In response to their observations and other reports from visitors, the park service began providing visitors written and verbal warnings about the goats' aggressive behavior. Warning signs were also posted at trailheads. Efforts on warning visitors were focused on the Klahanne Ridge (where the attack eventually occurred) and nearby Hurricane Ridge."
In particular, the goat that killed Boardman had raised the concern of park and wildlife officials.
"In June of 2009, the Wildlife Branch Chief Dr. Patti Happe, sent an email to Olympic's Superintendent, Karen Gustin, the ranger assigned to the Hurricane and Klahanne Ridge areas, Sanny Lustig, and others," court documents state. "Dr. Happe wrote to give an 'update on the aggressive billy goat situation at Hurricane Ridge, and start the conversation about additional management options.' She noted that he has 'been a problem for several years,' that he is 'behaving in an increasing aggressive manner,' and she thinks he 'now perceives himself as being the dominant critter.' Dr. Happe expressed concern that 'it may only be an [sic] matter of time until someone is hurt.'"
"The following year, on July 5, 2010, Ranger Lustig sent another email to Dr. Happe and other park officials, stating that '[f]or the past two weeks or so reports of the big billy that sounds pretty surely to be the one that has menaced the Switchback trial has been menacing the Hurricane Hill trial,'" court documents continue. "She states that 'it seems his MO is to follow people to the trial head, rear up and come in close proximity brandishing his hooves, and the latest was an actual report of a head butt.' It is her impression that he is 'big, he's not wary, he pesters, he looks mean and as if he'll get aggressive.'"
Court documents indicate that in light of these concerns, park and wildlife officials discussed the possibility of relocating the goat that gored Boardman, though that obviously never happened.
Despite these facts (and, at least in part, because of some of them), this week in federal court in Tacoma U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan dismissed all but one of Chadd's claims - the claim the park screwed up the rescue effort - noting that although park officials could have been faster to kill or relocate the monstrous and aggressive mountain goat, the park's actions are immune from lawsuit under the Federal Tort Claims Act - because these actions involved an exercise of discretion related to public policy.
In announcing his decision, Judge Bryan noted: "Even in sad cases like this one, the court is duty bound to uphold the law, however difficult or unjust the result appears."
Find Judge Bryan's full decision on the following page ...