Timber Trespass–Time to Sue
Lately I have had a few calls about the wrongful cutting of timber, so I thought I would update on the state of the law in North Carolina when your timber is illegally harvested. Basically, as I have written before, if a person cuts the wood off your property, intentionally or not, they are liable for double the net value of the timber. If you can prove it was done intentionally, or can show that it is a practice of this person or company, you may be able to get treble the net value and attorney fees under the unfair and deceptive trade practices statute. For more detail you can read my original article here.
The statute of limitations for the wrongful cutting of timber is three years from the date the trespass began. (Four years if you can proceed under unfair and deceptive trade practices). One unique problem of timber trespasses is that the cutting usually occurs on rural property, far from major roads or residences. I currently have a client who had a tract of timber in a swamp, with no access other than by small boat. In that case it could be years past the statute of limitations before the cutting is found out.
Therefore, timber cutting cases frequently benefit from an extreme application of what is known as the “discovery rule.” For the statute of limitations on timber cutting and trespass, as well as most other types of lawsuits, the statute does not begin to toll until the plaintiff knew or should have known about the trespass. In other words, to determine your deadline to file a suit, you start counting from the date you found out that your timber had been cut, or when you should have found out. If the property is on a street that you drive by several times a year, or if you hear a rumor that your property has been cut, but you fail to investigate, a jury could find that you “should have known.” I’ve had timber cases that survived a statute of limitations defense where the property was so far back in the woods that the owner didn’t find out until almost 10 years later, and that only from a coincidental aerial photo.
Some types of claims other than trespass, notably medical malpractice and construction, in addition to a statute of limitations, also have a longer statute of repose, which is a hard deadline, and will start the clock running whether the plaintiff could have known about what happened or not.
–Bradley A. Coxe is a practicing attorney in Wilmington, NC with Hodges & Coxe PC who specializes in Personal Injury, Medical Malpractice, Homeowner's Associations, Contract and Real Estate disputes and all forms of Civil Litigation. Please contact him at (910) 772-1678.