Private landowners must carry out regular and stringent inspections of roadside trees to make sure they are safe, a leading solicitor has warned.
FBC Manby Bowdler principal consultant and agricultural specialist Steven Corfield said failure to carry out such assessments could result in an insurance breach and hefty financial penalties.
His warning follows a recent Court of Appeal judgement on the case of Cavanagh v Whitley Parish Council which highlighted the need for both public and private landowners to pay greater attention to the condition of trees located in potentially dangerous places on their land, particularly those close to roads.
Mr Corfield said the case – which involved a rotting tree falling onto a busy road and colliding with a bus and subsequently causing serious injuries to the driver – drew attention to the level of scrutiny which private landowners needed to adopt in future.
He said: “Whilst there is no doubt that public authorities are under a particularly high duty of care, the effect of this case is to make private landowners almost certainly liable to the same level of duty.”
The judge in this particular case found in favour of the bus driver on evidence provided by tree experts which suggested the tree was in a high risk position and located in a very busy area next to a main road.
The tree should have been inspected at least every two years and had such a regime been conducted, the decay would have been identified and the accident prevented, explained Mr Corfield.
Failing to carry out a satisfactory inspection regime therefore had the potential for rendering void the council’s insurance policy against third-party and public liability, he added.
During the hearing of the case, the Court of Appeal gave guidance to the effect that property owners must pay far greater attention to trees located in prominent position with the potential to cause damage.
Lord Justice Flaux, from the Court of Appeal, said there was a “need for particular rigour in inspecting large trees which are adjacent to a main road and which represent a significant potential hazard.”
Mr Corfield added the court indicated that private landowners could avoid falling foul of similar insurance breaches by carrying out regular tree inspections in line with Forestry Commission’s practice guide from 2000.
Further still, he advised landowners to seek advice on the condition of trees at risk from qualified and experienced professionals.
For more information, contact Steven on 01743 266268 or firstname.lastname@example.org.