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Archive for July, 2014

Getting to the root of the problem or branching out?

Tree owners owe a duty of care towards those who come into proximity of their trees.  The Honourable Mr Justice Coulson considered the extent of this liability of both the owner and a tree surgeon who worked on her trees, when a branch of one fell, during a storm, onto neighbouring rail track causing damage to a train.  It was evident that the tree had a hidden defect (see Stagecoach South Western Trains Ltd v Hind and Steel [2014] EWHC 1891 (TCC)).

In respect of the legal principles behind the tree owner’s liability, the judge concluded:

  1. The owner of a tree owes a duty to act as a reasonable and prudent landowner;
  2. Such a duty must not amount to an unreasonable burden or force the landowner to act as the insurer of nature.  But he has a duty to act where there is a danger which is apparent to him and which he can see with his own eyes;
  3. A reasonable and prudent landowner should carry out preliminary/informal inspections or observations on a regular basis;
  4. In certain circumstances, the landowner should arrange for fuller inspections by arboriculturalists.  This will usually be because preliminary/informal inspections or observations have revealed a potential problem, although it could also arise because of a lack of knowledge or capacity on the part of the landowner to carry out preliminary/informal inspections.  A general approach that requires a close/formal inspection only if there is some form of ‘trigger’ is also in accordance with the published guidance referred to in the judgement;
  5. The resources available to the householder may have a relevance to the way in which the duty is discharged.

The tree surgeon’s liability only arose if there was sufficient proximity between him and the claimant, if he had a wide duty to point out problems with the offending tree to the claimant and he was in breach of that duty.  Neither the tree owner nor the surgeon was held liable.

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