Landowners, Dangerous Trees and the Law

31 May 2012

A case continues to be heard in the High Court concerning the National Trust and and several families from Heathlands Church of England Primary School in West Bergholt, Essex (Mullinger et al. vs National Trust). The case relates to an accident that occurred in 2007 when a school trip took place at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk. Whilst moving along the 'Monster Trail' walk, a large branch from an old beech tree broke off and fell onto a group of school children. The accident caused 1 death and 3 severe injuries. The families of the injured children are now suing the National Trust claiming that it failed to have in place a competent procedure for inspection and maintenance of the tree and failed in its duty to protect the health and safety of the public.. The National Trust had a volunteer Tree Inspector who claimed that she saw no difference in the tree's appearance over the last 15 years therefore no further investigation into the tree were necessary. This case is still on-going with no decisions made as yet, however this case and an increasing amount of others bring up concerns about the use of the law and the encouragement of a 'claim culture'. Another example of this was highlighted by the Farmers Weekly in 2007. This case involved a motorcyclist's collision with a tree that had fallen from a piece of land onto the public highway. The motorcyclist claimed for compensation and the court decided that the landowner had not instructed a sufficiently qualified inspector to check the trees, therefore had neglected their 'duty of care' to the motorcyclist and any other user of the public highway. Although both these examples include aspects of a 'claim culture' that is becoming to some extent, inherent in modern society, they also flag up issues that many landowners will have or might one day have to deal with. Landowners have a responsibility to maintain their land, whether that be hedgerows, livestock, utilities and countless other burdens to minimise the risk of injury to others. It seems that landowners need to be ever more vigilant about things such as large trees and other potential dangers that are near public highways, which include roads, track ways and foot/bridle paths where the public have a right of way. • For additional information please contact: Alexandra Dean of Gepp & Sons. The above is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.