07 April, 2017
A parish council has been found negligent in adopting a three-year cycle for its inspection of trees on its land.
The claimant sought damages for severe personal injuries and consequential loss after a large lime tree fell across a road and onto the vehicle the claimant was driving.
The land was owned by the first defendant parish council who carried out a system of tree inspections every three years. The second defendant tree surgeon had been instructed by the council in 2006 and 2009 to inspect and report on the condition of the trees.
Investigations found that the roots of the tree in question were extensively decayed. The claimant asserted that the council had been negligent in employing the tree surgeon because he did not have the appropriate qualifications or expertise.
The fundamental question before the Court was whether the council was negligent in adopting its three-yearly inspection policy. The council argued that a three-year inspection cycle was reasonable, and that it had relied on the tree surgeon's inspection and report which expressly stated that "no works" were required to the tree.
The Court held that the tree was alongside a busy public road and was in a high-risk position. It required regular inspection, and should have been inspected more frequently than every three years. On the application of simple negligence principles (taking account of the risk of failure together with the risk of serious damage) the Judge commented that the tree should have been inspected at least every two years and deemed that an 18-month inspection cycle, when trees were in and out of leaf, would have been reasonable.
The council owed a duty to act as a reasonable and prudent land owner, which included a duty to undertake regular inspections.
To defend similar claims, local authorities will need to demonstrate that they implement a system of inspection where consideration has been given to identifying and prioritising the inspection of those trees which pose a greater risk to people and property.
In the judgment, the Court advocated the council's recently instituted zoning policy as a sensible and economic policy as it enabled council resources to be channelled to a more frequent inspection of some trees, with savings being made in zones where there was little or no risk.
For further advice please contact Sarah Wilkinson by email or on 01254 662831.