Those Sure Were Some Expensive Trees

     HOUSTON (CN) – A Texan who mistakenly cut down trees on a wealthy attorney’s property sued State Farm Insurance for $375,000 – half of the cost of settling the attorney’s lawsuit.
     Walter B. Stuart sued State Farm Fire and Casualty and State Farm Lloyds on Thursday in Harris County Court.
     Stuart owns a home in Colorado at the foot of Mount Sopris, a 12,965-foot peak in the Rocky Mountains. His land is part of Sopris Mountain Ranch, which bills itself as “an authentic Western experience with a contemporary lifestyle.”
     The Homeowners Association website shows Wild West landscapes with deer, elk, horses and cattle tended by cowboys as they graze on flatlands by stands of brilliant orange-leaved aspen and birch.
     Stuart and his wife plan to retire there, where all the lots are forested for the horseback-riding community attracted to the vistas. Stuart says his lot is next to a vacant 35-acre parcel, with “no visible boundaries … no fences, streams, ditches, trails, stakes, signs or other markers” between them.
     He had a landscaper cut down trees he thought were on his lot, but a neighbor told him they were not actually on his land. So he called the owner of the vacant lot, Gerald Hosier, to apologize and offer to pay for the damage.
     “Hosier, however, is no ordinary neighbor. He is a successful trial attorney in Colorado whose assertive litigation approach has reportedly earned him over $1 billion dollars. Mr. Hosier wanted much more than an apology,” the complaint states. He sued Stuart for more than $1 million for negligence and trespassing.
     Stuart says State Farm Colorado told him in August 2013 it would cover his defense, then “abruptly reversed its position” and denied coverage. “State Farm Colorado asserted that because the original complaint alleged ‘intentional acts,’ the damages could not be covered,” the lawsuit states.
     Meanwhile, Stuart says, Hosier “aggressively litigated the case with multiple motions and court hearings,” forcing him to retain expensive experts to testify about the value of the cut trees.
     With his legal costs spiraling out of control, and facing long odds if he took the case to trial against “one of the most successful trial attorneys in the country,” Stuart says, he decided to settle with Hosier for $750,000.
     Stuart says he has been insured by State Farm for more than 35 years, and this was “the first and only serious claim ever asserted against him.”
     State Farm covered only $300,000 of it, Stuart says, and signed an agreement giving him the right to sue it for more money.
     Stuart says he paid $375,000 and his landscaper’s insurer paid $75,000.
     He sued State Farm for breach of contract and Texas insurance code violations. He also seeks a declaration that his State Farm policy covers property damage “caused by an insured.”
     He is represented by Nancy Kornegay with Brown & Kornegay in Houston.

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