22nd March 2017
Marcus Grant instructed by Nick Godwin of Slater & Gordon, represented a 68-year-old widow whose 64 year old husband died when a branch from an oak tree struck his passing car on an A road in Berkshire.
Liability was disputed. It was accepted that the landowner of mature trees adjoining the highway owed a duty of care to road users to carry out periodic inspections by a LANTRA trained tree inspector. It was accepted that no such inspection was carried out before the accident. However, it was disputed that the accident would have been avoided had such an inspection been carried out. The thoroughness of the inspection was not agreed, as to whether a drive by inspection sufficed, or whether the inspector needed to be on foot. The Claimant contended that failure of the branch that fell was foreseeable to a reasonably competent LANTRA tree inspector either on foot on in a drive by inspection because of the branch’s length (13 m), weight, shallow angle (almost horizontal which imposed greater leverage at the junction with the trunk where it subsequently failed) and a large occlusion close to the junction with the trunk (indicative of a likely source of rot beneath). The Parties commissioned expert arboricultural evidence that reached conflicting views. The Claimant was only able to run the case at all because of Google Earth images of the branch in its pre-failure state. The case settled through negotiation shortly before trial.