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The popular children’s story of Chicken Licken centres around the character of Chicken Licken who sadly doesn’t see an acorn falling and landing on his head, which he assumes must mean that the sky is falling down.
Whilst this is an enjoyable story, what is the situation in law when something from a tree falls out of the sky and injures somebody?
In public spaces, our Local Councils are normally responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of trees on their land. On occasion, accidents involving those trees can occur, resulting in injuries to individuals. The question asked is whether those individuals can bring claims for compensation against the Council.
In Witley Parish Council v Cavanagh (2018) Mr Cavanagh suffered life changing injuries when a 30 metre tall lime tree fell across the road and crushed the cab of his bus that he was driving. The tree was on land owned by Witley Parish Council in Surrey and it had extensive root decay. The accident happened following strong winds.
The Council confirmed that it had a duty as a land owner to protect people from the danger of trees on its land and it had a system of inspection every three years. The Council had employed a tree surgeon to inspect all trees on its land and to provide a report on any required work. The last inspection report prior to the accident indicated that ‘no works’ were required on the relevant tree.
However, following the accident, a large fungus, approximately 30cm wide was found on the side of the tree furthest away from the road. It was not particularly obvious to see, however anyone carrying out a proper inspection of the tree would have noticed clear evidence of fungal attack.
The Court of Appeal upheld the Judge at first instance’s conclusion that the tree in question, which was located at the side of a busy road, with a park bench and house located nearby, should have been inspected no less than every two years and ideally every eighteen months or so, to ensure that the tree could be inspected in and out of leaf, so as to give the best possible chance of identifying any problems before they became critical.
With this in mind, the Council’s own inspection on a three year basis was insufficient.
Mature trees can go from visibly healthy to visibly unhealthy in a period of around two years.
Serious and life changing injuries can often be the result of a tree falling onto road users or adjoining properties, therefore it is extremely encouraging to see a Judgment from the Court of Appeal encouraging Councils to adopt sensible systems of inspection to prevent accidents like this occurring.
Whilst Chicken Licken could not have claimed compensation for a naturally occurring event, with the acorn falling upon him, where a land owner has failed in their duty of care towards members of the public in ensuring the reasonable health and safety of trees on their land, it is clear from the Judgment in Witley Parish Council that claims for compensation following injury can be brought.
Poole Alcock Solicitors have specialist expert Personal Injury Solicitors available to assist you in your personal injury claim. We work on a No Win No Fee basis and can offer a FREE initial consultation. You can contact us by using our contact form or by calling us on 01270 444329.
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