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Award of $400,500 for nails, metal found in wood chips

Woods Creek Farm

From left, Sherrie Parker, her husband, Daryl, and Carol McArdle, a trainer at the facility, riding "Prince," a German Warmblood, at the Parkers' dressage training facility in Monroe, which is now nail-free.

nails & chips

Sherrie Parker demonstrates how the rusty nails blend in with the wood chips, and can be removed only if the magnet comes into direct contact with the nails.
Photos by Jeff Switzer/Woodinville Weekly.

lawsuit award by Jeff Switzer, staff reporter
Following 18 months of tribulations and a two-week trial, Daryl and Sherrie Parker can now get back to work on their multi-million dollar 30-acre horse-training facility just outside Monroe.
   A Snohomish County Superior Court jury awarded the Parkers $400,500 last week for damages and cleanup after NEPA Pallet and Container Co., Inc., sold and delivered wood chips contaminated with nails, screws, staples, and plastic for use as horse footing at the Parkers' Woods Creek Farm.
   The $400,500 went for the cost of cleanup and restoration ($152,500); reasonable loss of value to the property ($100,000); loss of use and enjoyment of the property ($130,000); and loss of profit in the horse farm business ($18,000).
   The jury also found NEPA in violation of the Washington State Consumer Protection Act, describing the company as "engaging in unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the sale of their product" and "affecting the public."
   NEPA owner Denton Sherry refused to comment on the ruling. The Parkers, however, said they were satisfied.
   "The damages were adequate to repair the farm and put us back into business," said Daryl Parker. "We're pleased with the jury's decision."
   Paul Luvera, the Parkers' lawyer, said that having violated the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) and affecting the public by engaging in a deceptive act is quite a stigma.
   "This was a very substantial amount to have received for a CPA case," Luvera said. "They went to a lot of trouble and expense to clean up the property, but the Parkers' main interest was getting the CPA ruling."
   NEPA makes its wood chips by grinding up old pallets. NEPA also sells chips for use around playground equipment.
   According to Steve Young, director of Support Services for Northshore School district, the district buys its playground wood chips, a special "expensive" mix of cedar and fir, from Cory DeJong in Redmond, not from NEPA.

Events leading up to the lawsuit
   The Parkers bought 40 truckloads of wood chips from NEPA, or 2,200 cubic yards, between March 1993 and August 1994 for use as footing at their Woods Creek Farm facility. To put that in perspective, the wood chips would measure one foot deep and cover three football fields.
   The Parkers say they invested $2.3 million and started Woods Creek Farm as a dressage horse business in 1991. It has been closed, however, since Aug. 18, 1994, when Sherrie Parker discovered rusty nails and plastic mixed in with the wood chips. Court papers say she called NEPA and told them to stop delivering any more loads of the product and requested that they come out and immediately clean up the "mess they had created."
   NEPA came out the following day, and over the next three to four weeks attempted to remove the nails from the Parkers' farm. The Parkers said many of the chips had been spread on pastures and walkways and the nails had worked their way into the soil and all around the property. They hired Geo Engineers, Inc., to plan the cleanup.
   According to court papers, NEPA felt the plan was excessive, and when the Parkers hired a lawyer to write a letter to NEPA stating their cleanup procedure was not adequate, NEPA left the Parkers to do their own cleanup. Geo Engineers concluded that about 135,000 nails and fragments were delivered to the site.
   Sherrie Parker said it was a real shock to see what had been sold to them. "Most importantly, we want the public to be aware--this opens the doors for the horse people and the playground people to come forward," said Sherrie Parker.

Another NEPA customer
   Linnea Epstein has the same problem as the Parkers, though on a smaller scale. She moved to Monroe in 1985 and purchased two truckloads of wood chips from NEPA for use as footing at her arena.
   "We're not talking about a few nails here," Epstein said. "We're talking about a lot of nails."
   Epstein, a dressage enthusiast, built her nearly-regulation dressage arena to ride her horse, Torben, an 8-year-old Norwegian Fjord. Her children also used the arena for soccer and sports, but the barn has remained empty and unused since she found nails in with the wood chips in November 1994.
   The following people have agreed to act as consumer advocates: Linnea Epstein, 788-0725; Jan Reinking, King County Executive Horse Council, 485-3452; Caroline and Lothar Tinkers, Washington State Horse Council, 451-1654; and Steve Higgins, Snohomish County Horse Council, (360) 794-8446.