After almost 2 years, my experience of being sued is over. I won, sort of. The issue for anyone who doesn't know involved a division fence between my home farm and the farm north of it. The "townies" who bought the farm to the north 30 years ago when my grandfather owned this farm set about immediately to build new fence around the rest of their farm, but always neglected the division fence, leaving grandpa and later on me to do 100% of the upkeep. For almost 15 years we had fought and bickered with the result being the same,they said they weren't doing any of the upkeep, and if I wanted a new fence I had to build it myself.
Kansas fence law is very clear in this case, both of us were responsible to maintain the division fence in equal shares. Their farm was pasture, they ran cattle on it for about 20 of the 30 years they owned it. However, they built a two wire fence about 150 yards to the north of the property line, avoiding the trees and obstacles nearer the actual division fence. A two wire fence is not a legal fence in Kansas, it wouldn't have mattered if it was, the fact still remains, adjoining landowners are both responsible to maintain a division fence. Of course, just because the law says it is so, that doesn't mean it is easy to get someone to act within the law, without spending a small fortune. To further complicate matters, because almost all property in Kansas is laid out on a grid based on 640 acre one mile squares and their fractional square and rectangular divisions into 160 and 80 acre tracts, about 500 feet of the property line ran through the river. The solution to this by previous owners many years ago was to put the east half of the division fence on the north side of the river bank, up high out of the flood plain, which is on the south side(my side). Another facet of this lawsuit was they wanted me to build a new division fence down the middle of a running river, something I consider to be impossible, their version was it was merely inconvenient to me, other than that they said there was no good reason the fence couldn't be built down the middle of the river. I guess I should back up and say that in the fall of 2006 I decided rather than continue to fight over the fence and have cattle out all of the time, I should just build the fence myself, and pay for it. I did just that using the standard practices we use here all of the time, I had a bulldozer clear the fenceline.
6 months later I got a demand letter asking for almost $40000 in damages, based on the trees lost and the cost of cleaning up the brush piles. My reply was the fence could not have been built without clearing the trees, and the brush piles could be burned easily enough. I thought that was the end of it, but shortly after my return from the UK in August of 2007 I was served with notice a suit had been filed, I spent 2 days the first week of December of 2008 in court, just last week I got the judgement.
The judge found in my favor. With regard to the east half of the fence the judge said "putting a tight five wire fence down through the channel of a running river is a practical impossibility in terms of keeping it from constantly washing out and coming apart", exactly what I had said. His ruling was the division fence is to be kept on the north side of the river, just as it should be. With regard to the value of the trees, their expert placed it at $9455 mine placed the value at $100. The judge agreed with my expert, the tree value was $100,but went on to say that was immaterial because the trees had to be removed anyway in order to build the fence. With regard to the brush piles the judge ruled they could be disposed of "by simply touching a match to the piles", nearly the exact words I used myself. The judge summed up the entire situation "the plaintiffs' failure to assist in fence maintainence was the genesis of the problem. Plaintiffs will not be awarded damages".
That is all fine and good, he awarded me half the costs of replacing the fence, and believe me winning a lawsuit against you for $40000 is better than losing one, but I am still left with court costs, thank goodness my lawyer/landlord/ good friend will have a good degree of mercy on me. What is too bad is how easy it is to be sued for doing your job by someone not doing theirs. They may not win, but they can sure cause alot of trouble.
Remarkably, yesterday I received an email from a lawyer in Wichita wanting a copy of my judgement ASAP. Seems she is defending a fire department against a $55000 suit brought because they were assisting on a controlled burn that got out of hand and burned up some cedar trees(most of us work every year to get rid of cedar trees). Seems the world is full of dummies willing to sue you. That trial starts today and is in front of a jury, it is slated to run all week. No wonder our nation is in so much financial trouble.