03 June 2019

When the wind blows…

Amy Slocombe Smith, a Senior solicitor within Wilkin Chapman’s specialist agricultural team, looks at how the result of a serious injury case could impact upon landowners across our region.

The Court of Appeal’s support of a bus driver, seriously injured when a tree fell on his vehicle, should remind land-owners of their responsibility to care for borders that edge public spaces.

It must also prompt anyone with such land to check the terms contained in their public liability insurance, while following national tree-checking guidance and keeping paperwork in order.

This incident was highlighted by Wilkin Chapman Regulatory Partner Jonathan Goolden, as Wilkin Chapman are national legal advisers to the Society of Local Council Clerks. While this case did involve a parish council it is relevant to all private landowners who have land abutting public areas.

The bus driver, who was seriously injured when a diseased lime tree fell onto the A282 in Surrey after a storm and crushed the single decker. has been awarded damages of up to £500,000 after a High Court judgement in his favour was supported by the Court of Appeal.

Witley Parish Council owns the land and, while it organised three-yearly inspections and had authorised previous work on the tree, it was ruled the checks were not regular enough based on the ‘high risk’ location. There also appeared to be a failure to clarify if further work to the tree was needed after a previous routine inspection.

Guidance from The National Tree Safety Group (NTSG), which has produced three publications on trees and public safety, was considered by the Court. The Guidance recommends that more frequent checks should be conducted in areas where trees, especially old and large trees, present ‘significant potential hazard’.

Incidents like this are rare, but are the classic high impact, low occurrence risk event. As in other areas of risk management, as well as following NTSG guidance, there is a need for landowners to demonstrate a well-documented and proportionate scheme of inspection and carefully check the wording of public liability insurance policies. Together, these actions will be key to avoiding the risk and demonstrating duty of care if nature intervenes.

For advice on all agricultural issues please contact Amy Slocombe-Smith on 01482 398398, email amy.slocombesmith@wilkinchapman.co.uk or visit wilkinchapman.co.uk

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