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Liability of a Private Homeowner For Damage Caused by Tree Roots

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In a recent case the Court has confirmed that liability for property damage caused by tree roots should be based on what knowledge is reasonably to be expected of a reasonably prudent homeowner.

hlw Keeble Hawson logoThe Defendant in the matter had a mature tree in her garden growing very close to the boundary with the Claimant’s property. The roots of the tree caused subsidence damage to the Claimant’s house, for which the Defendant denied liability on the basis that she did not know the risk of tree root damage.

The Court considered whether the correct test for reasonable forseeability of the trees causing damage to property was the actual knowledge of the owner of the trees, or an objective test. It was decided by the Court that the latter was the correct test to apply, considering the previous authorities and widespread media coverage of instances of subsidence caused by tree roots. Further, the Court added that a higher standard will apply where a homeowner is familiar with the risk.

For liability to attach, the Court considered that there would have to be a “particular risk” that the homeowner should have been aware of; in this instance, it was held that the risk of having a large tree so close to the boundary should have been appreciated by the Defendant.

The Defendant was therefore held to be liable for the damage despite having no knowledge of the hazard before being advised of it by the injured party. The Court reduced the amount payable to take account of the late notification given by the Claimants.

The case therefore confirms that in such negligence or nuisance cases, liability cannot be avoided by the ignorance of the Defendant homeowner.

For further advice on this or any other issues on disputes about real estate please contact Sarah Burton on 01302 308662 or sarahburton@hlwkeeblehawson.co.uk

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