A one-day Madison County jury trial involving claims of trespass against a Collinsville farm owned in part by attorney Thomas Maag resulted in a $300 verdict on Dec. 2.
Defendants Frank Platz and Jeffrey Lee were accused of entering farm property without permission in October 2011, getting their vehicle stuck in mud on a private roadway and then returning in an attempt to retrieve the stuck vehicle without permission.
Plaintiffs Sugarcamp Land Trust, Thomas R. Maag Trust and Thomas R. Maag had sought an unspecified judgment exceeding $15,000 in compensatory damages plus punitive damages against the defendants as punishment for willful, wanton and reckless conduct and property destruction.
The jury reached its verdict after deliberating for 35 minutes in a case before Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder.
Jurors awarded the plaintiffs $50 for “trespass to the plaintiffs’ property and the interference with plaintiffs’ right to exclusive possession of plaintiffs’ land.”
They also awarded the plaintiffs $250 for “fair and reasonable value of the repairs performed on the road on plaintiffs’ property that were required due to defendants’ trespass.”
The vehicle was allegedly stuck on an unpaved roadway leading to a barn and providing farm access to the property when the roadway was not dry. The plaintiffs claim the roadway was still in its muddy condition when the defendants attempted to remove the vehicle.
The plaintiffs filed a statement of the case on Dec. 2 informing the jury that summary judgment had already been entered saying trespass did occur, and informed the jury that their job was to decide the amount of damages to be awarded.
“Sugarcamp Land Trust, Thomas R. Maag Trust, and Thomas G. Maag argue they were damaged in an amount commensurate with road repair costs and for the interference with the quiet enjoyment of their land,” their complaint stated.
Peter J. Maag of the Maag Law Firm in Wood River represented the plaintiffs at trial and was the first to question Platz on the stand.
Platz admitted he did not have permission to be on the property located between Glen Carbon and Collinsville. He said he was there in an attempt to purchase horse radish root for a family smoked sausage recipe.
“I thought there was a good chance” the farmers would have horse radish they’d be willing to sell, Platz said.
Platz testified that he drove his 2004 GMC SUV about 20 feet onto the Keller Farm hoping someone would be there to sell the produce, which he claims was recently harvested. When he saw the barn, he said he continued further onto the property.
After driving about 50 to 100 yards, he says he realized the farm was too muddy to continue and tried to reverse, but his wheels just spun. So, Platz said he continued forward to locate a larger, dry area to turn around, which allegedly worsened the situation.
Platz then said he drove about a quarter mile into the farm until he reached an irrigation system and was able to turn around, which is when his tires allegedly slipped off the road and went into a corn field.
He said he returned three days later with Lee to get the car out of the mud. The two shoveled the dirt away from the tires and used kitty litter to free the vehicle.
Attorney Kristine M. Mack of Donovan, Rose & Nester in Belleville represented the defendants.
Platz told her that he and Lee allegedly attempted to repair the deep ruts made by the spinning tires by filling them in with the shoveled dirt, which were about 20 feet long and between three and seven inches deep.
Expert witness Kevin Robinson testified on behalf of the plaintiffs as to the cost of repairing the damaged road. He said proper repairs would cost about $3,260.
He also said that when surveying the damage for a bid to fix the road, the ruts were sporadic and not in a direct pathway.
“Like someone is out there playing is what it is like,” Robinson said.
Madison County Circuit Court case number 11-CH-1037