Trees - Your Liability As A Home Owner

The High Court has recently considered in the case of Stagecoach v Hind 2014, the liability of a home owner to a railway company which uses a railway line passing the garden of her property.

The case centred on a large tree estimated to be 150 years old, which stood on her land next to a railway track. During a particularly bad winter storm a large branch from the tree fell on to the railway. The railway operator argued that the home owner was liable in damages because the tree had previously lost one large branch, and they said it should have been evident to the home owner it posed a danger to them as operators of the railway line. They refined their argument by saying it was part of her duty as a reasonable landowner to have it checked by a suitable expert as that would have identified that the stem of the tree was in a dangerous condition. They said her failure to arrange for expert assessment meant she was liable to compensate the railway company for its losses during the period it was unable to use the railway line.

The court disagreed with the railway operators on the facts of this case. The court confirmed the law requires a landowner to act reasonably and prudently, and that when it comes to the responsibility for trees, that duty would normally involve informal inspections on a regular basis. Expert advice would only be required once a problem is revealed. The court said in this case the danger was not apparent and so the landowner had fulfilled her duty in law by carrying out regular inspections. The court went on to say there was no increased duty of care just because the tree happened to be next to a railway line. In reaching their decision they pointed to the fact the landowner had spent money on a tree surgeon in previous years, undertaken over the years maintenance work on it such as stripping out ivy, and during that work the tree appeared outwardly healthy. Her conduct meant she had discharged her duty to act reasonably and prudently, and on the facts of the case there was nothing to put the land owner on notice that the stem of the tree was in a dangerous condition.

Should you have a large substantial tree in your garden, this case illustrates the court's approach to landowners whom act reasonably. The guidance from the court is to undertake regular informal inspections, and if there is an outward and apparent problem, seek advice from a tree surgeon. With the onset of winter not far away, now is a good time to carry out visual inspections and if you have cause for concern take action to prevent a damaged tree causing damage to your neighbour's property. It also underlines the need for you to make sure you have a good policy of insurance in case the worse should happen.

If you have concerns in relation to any issue affecting your property then Fosters property team will be happy to assist you.

For more information on Property issues, including frequently asked questions please visit the Fosters Residential Property page.

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