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Cavanagh v Witley Parish Council [2018] EWCA Civ 2232 - Peter Wake, Weightmans LLP

04/12/18. In a recent decision which contains some salutary learning points for defendants, the Court of Appeal has found the defendant local authority to be liable to the claimant for a tree that fell onto the highway and collided with the bus he was driving.

In January 2012, after stormy weather during the night, a lime tree some 25 to 30 metres high fell onto the adjoining A283. The tree collided with a bus which was being driven by the claimant and he was badly injured. The tree was subject to inspections every three years by a tree surgeon appointed by the local authority. It had been inspected in 2006 and 2009 and no defects were found to be present. The cause of the fall was decay that had begun to develop after the 2009 inspection so the local authority was unaware of it.

At first instance, the claimant succeeded. The judge accepted the evidence of the claimant’s tree expert who stated that the tree was in a high risk position as it was located in a very busy area and next to a main road. Therefore, given its size, location and potential to cause very serious harm, it should have been inspected no less than every two years and, had this happened, this more frequent inspection regime would have identified the decay and prevented the accident.

The local authority appealed and the thrust of the appeal was that it had been...

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