September 3, 2013
L. FRED WEAVER, JOAN WEAVER, AND VICKI WEAVER, Plaintiffs, Appellees, and Cross-Appellants
STATE OF MONTANA AND MONTANA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES AND CONSERVATION, Defendants, Appellees, and Cross-Appellees. 
SYNOPSIS OF THE CASE
The Montana Supreme Court has upheld a jury verdict of $730, 000 against the State of Montana for damage to private property caused by a 2000 wildland fire in Granite County. The jury found that the State was negligent in failing to control a back burn fire it had set to control the wildfire.
The State of Montana argued that a legal principle known as the "public duty doctrine" prohibited the recovery of damages for government efforts to contain and suppress a wildland fire. The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's decision that the State had not raised the issue in time and declined to consider the argument. The Court determined that the State had not given adequate notice to the landowners that it would be relying on that legal theory. Because the issue was not raised until three weeks before trial, the District Court was within its discretion in ruling that the plaintiffs did not have adequate time to respond.
The Court also rejected the State's arguments that the plaintiffs had failed to present adequate expert testimony at trial and that the trial court should have moved the trial to a different county.
The Court denied the landowners' request to award monetary sanctions against the State for their allegation that it had failed to provide accurate photographs and video evidence prior to trial.