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Court of Appeal implies that landowners should carry out informal surveys on a regular basis in addition to professional inspections

Court of Appeal decision in Witley Parish Council v Cavanagh EWCA Civ 2232

The recent case discussing a landowner’s liability for injuries caused by a falling tree which was alleged not to have been inspected properly.

The case concerned a large, mature lime tree, leaning over a road, which fell following a storm, causing serious injury to the driver of a bus passing by.  It subsequently emerged that the tree had some structural decay, which it was alleged could have been discovered if the tree had been inspected more frequently (it had been inspected on a three-yearly cycle, which was agreed by the experts to be normally adequate for roadside trees)

“Accordingly, I (the judge) consider that the principles relating to a landowner’s duty in respect of trees can be summarised as follows:

(a) The owner of a tree owes a duty to act as a reasonable and prudent landowner;

(b) 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;

(c) A reasonable and prudent landowner should carry out preliminary/informal inspections or observations on a regular basis;

(d) 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.

(e) the resources available to the householder may have relevance as to the way that the duty is discharged.

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