Court of Appeal backs Council in Death Caused by Dangerous Tree

The recent Court of Appeal case of Joanne Micklewright (on her own behalf and as executrix of the estate of Christopher John Imison Deceased) v Surrey County Council highlights the difficulties faced by Claimants who suffer serious personal injuries as a result of branches falling from trees in public places.

The Claimant’s partner had travelled to Windsor Great Park for a bike ride with his son when he was struck by a tree branch which fell from a nearby oak tree.  Tragically he was killed in the incident and his partner brought a personal injury action against the local Council on the grounds that they had a statutory and common law duty to inspect the trees in the park for warning signs that they may constitute a danger.  The Claimant argued that the Council had no inspection regime in place and did not keep any written records for the tree in question.

The trial Judge at first instance agreed that the Council did not operate an adequate inspection regime but stated that for the Claimant to be successful she would have to show that not only was there no inspection regime in place, but that if such a practice did exist the defect would have been noted and dealt with, thereby avoiding the accident.  The Judge found that the branch had become detached through decay but after hearing expert evidence for both sides stated that the decay would not have been immediately apparent had an inspection been carried out.  As such, had an adequate inspection regime been in place, the outcome would have been no different.  The Claimant’s appeal to the Court of Appeal failed.

A similar tragic case of death caused by a falling tree branch, Harry Bowen & Others v The National Trust, was also heard by the High Court this year.  This case involved a group of boys on an orienteering course who stopped under a tree to shelter from rain.  As they did so a large branch fell from the tree, killing one child and causing severe personal injuries to three others.  Cases were brought on behalf of the injured boys against the National Trust on similar grounds to those raised in Micklewright.

This time the National Trust did operate a documented inspection regime, including risk assessments which categorised the severity of defects and separated the park in to High, Medium, or Low Risk areas.  The tree in question was in a Medium risk area due to the relatively low numbers of people who passed along the path each day.  As such, although the Forrester responsible for inspecting the area had noted the defects, the tree had not been “tagged” for remedial works as it was not in a high risk area.

Although the trial Judge accepted that the Inspector’s judgment was wrong, requiring any serious defect to be remedied without any assessment of the level of risk posed created an unacceptably low threshold which would leave the National Trust responsible for remedying all defects, regardless of whether any members of the public were at any risk at all or not.  There was nothing unreasonable in the NT’s approach, which was basically to allocate primary resources to the most serious dangers in the highest risk areas.

If you have been involved in an accident in a public place call David Mayor or any of our Personal Injury Solicitors for a free consultation on freephone 0800 975 2463, or contact us by email for free expert legal advice.

David Mayor

About David Mayor

David is Head of the Preston Office's Civil Litigation team and deals with all types of private Civil Court disputes. David’s blogs cover his expertise in all aspects of personal injury law from low value Road Traffic Accidents right through to complex large loss claims. David also writes and has a vast array of experience in Public Liability (trips and slips), Employer's Liability (accidents at work), and Motor Claims (motor vehicle accidents, pedestrian accidents).
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