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Falling Branches: Who Is To Blame?

17th July, 2014

A recent High Court decision has looked at an ordinary landowner’s duty in relation to trees on their land.

Useful guidance on the management of trees is published by the Forestry Commission for the National Tree Safety Group:
Common Sense Risk Assessment of Trees
Common Sense Risk Management of Trees
Managing Trees for Safety

The Health and Safety Executive also gives guidance on the risk from falling trees or branches – see here Management of the risk from falling trees or branches.

In this recent case, a primary school head teacher had a 150 year old ash tree at the bottom of her back garden which overhung the railway line. One night a tree branch fell onto the railway line in high winds and caused a train crash. The train company wanted to recover the cost of damage to the train which amounted to £325,000.

The court said a householder had a duty to carry out informal observations of their trees from time to time. The owner of the house was capable of complying with that duty as she was an ordinary urban observer of trees and she did so. If she was not sufficiently knowledgeable about trees then an arboriculturalist should be hired – for example if the owner of a property is away for a long time, couldn’t physically inspect the property or couldn’t tell if a tree was not healthy.

If a tree is apparently healthy when such regular informal inspections are met, a landowner is expected to do no more.

For more information please contact Emma McGlinchey on 01244 405567 or email [email protected].

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