A California man has filed a lawsuit after he was injured trying to flee from a bear that surprised him in a dumpster while he was visiting Lake Tahoe.
John Donaldson is seeking $15,000 in damages from a condominium association and waste management company for injuries he said he suffered in the encounter at a condo complex in the Incline Village area, which has long had problems with bears breaking into homes, cars and garbage cans in search of food.
Donaldson, who had rented a cottage in the area with his wife, was out for a walk with his dog in September 2019 and went to throw a bag of dog waste into the dumpster. According to the lawsuit filed with Nevada’s second judicial court, when Donaldson opened the dumpster, he was startled by the bear, who began coming toward him, and he stumbled, twisting his left leg and ankle, and fell on to his back.
He later required surgery for a torn Achilles tendon as well as spinal surgery because of injuries he suffered in the fall, Donaldson claims in the lawsuit, which was first reported by the Bay Area News Group. The suit alleges that the latch on the dumpster was defective and that it did not shut automatically as it was supposed to, giving bears access to the dumpster, and that it had been broken for months.
A black bear enjoys a drink near South Lake Tahoe, California, in 2007. Photograph: Chad Lundquist/AP
Donaldson is accusing Waste Management of Nevada of failing in its duty to repair the malfunctioning dumpster and Incline Crest HOA of failing to report the dumpster to Waste Management or inform residents and guests of the issue. In addition to $15,000 in damages, he is also seeking coverage of his legal costs and punitive damages.
“It is well known and established that Incline Village, as well as other parts of Lake Tahoe, has a serious and persistent bear problem, predominantly trash-related,” the lawsuit states.
Incline Village, a community of about 9,000 people on the north shore of Lake Tahoe in Nevada, has had issues with bears for years as the animals have entered human-occupied areas in search of food. In recent years, as Lake Tahoe neighborhoods have gotten better at securing trash, there has been an increase in bears breaking into homes.
But the community has long been divided about how to respond to the animal intruders. State authorities have euthanized some bears who have broken into homes. Local bear advocates oppose such killings and instead focus on educating the community and tourists on how to best secure their trash and homes.
In June, a tourist in the South Lake Tahoe area shot a bear who he said broke into a home he was staying in and attacked him, according to the sheriff’s department. The bear later had to be euthanized, sparking outrage among residents. The Bear League, a Lake Tahoe-based non-profit, has called for charges against the man, who they say was uninjured.