George Woodhead represents successful tree surgeon in QBD trial.

In January 2012, an 80-foot lime tree failed and crushed a bus, driven by Mr Cavanagh, causing life-changing injuries. The tree failed as a result of severe and extensive decay in the root system with high winds triggering the failure.  The Claimant brought claims against Witley Parish Council – owners of the land on which the tree was situated – and Mr Shepherd – a tree surgeon – in negligence.  The Claimant and the Council were represented by leading silks in the 5-day trial of the issue of liability.

The court heard evidence from Council staff, Mr Shepherd, his wife, together with three expert arboriculturists. Mr Shepherd’s case was that he had not inspected the tree in 2009 despite accepting instructions from the Council to do so.  He said that he had not received a map for the area in which the tree was located from the outset and that, despite frequent requests, was never provided with one.  When he produced his survey of trees within the Parish, the tree was included within the survey and the words, “no works” were written next to it.  Mr Shepherd’s case was that “no works” meant that he had not inspected the tree.  It was submitted on behalf of Mr Shepherd that, in any event, a fungal bracket found to have been growing from the base of the tree at the date of failure would not have been discoverable upon inspection had he surveyed the tree in 2009.  The Claimant submitted amongst other things that a more frequent inspection regime than three-yearly was required.

Sir Alistair Macduff dismissed the claim against Mr Shepherd. The judge found that whilst Mr Shepherd had dishonestly claimed that he did not inspect the tree (and had in fact negligently inspected the tree), his negligence was not causative of the accident.  The fungal bracket was only beginning to develop at the time of Mr Shepherd’s inspection and a full and proper inspection would not have discovered it.  Moreover, an inspection frequency of at least every two years was required.  Had such an inspection frequency have been in place a further inspection prior to the accident would have revealed root decay in the tree and triggered remedial works.  The Council sought permission to appeal against the judge’s findings on the inspection frequency given the significant consequences the judgment may have for landowners.

George Woodhead was instructed by Candy Stockton at TWM Solicitors.