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Freeman v South Somerset District Council, Yeovil County Court, 5 June 2009

5 June 2009
The issues

Trees – inspection regime – expert evidence.

The facts

On the 9th July 2007 Mr Freeman parked his car in a car park maintained by the Local Authority in the Nine Springs area. When he came back to it he found that a tree had fallen on it, badly damaging it and causing it, eventually, to be written off by his insurance company.

The Local Authority employed a tree inspector who inspected the area (designated as zone 56) within which the tree had grown. She inspected her zone on an annual basis. She had last inspected it on the 30th October 2006. She had found no defects on any trees in that area. She did not have any arboricultural qualifications but she did have a degree in ecology.

The Defendant also relied upon the evidence of an arboricultural officer employed by the Defendant who went to the car park the day after the accident and inspected the fallen tree. The tree in question was a bird cherry tree and suffered from a honey fungus infection causing internal decay which was not evidence upon a visual inspection and became evident only after the tree had fallen. The Claimant sought to rely upon the evidence of an expert. The Defendant objected to the reliance in that the report was not CPR compliant and no permission had been granted for the Claimant to rely upon any expert evidence. Moreover, it was only disclosed shortly before Trial that the expert was the cousin of the Claimant’s mother.

The decision

With regard to the expert evidence, no permission had been given and as there was a relationship between the Claimant and the expert, it was improper to consider his evidence.

The Court was concerned about imposing too high a burden on the Defendant. It was not incumbent on the Defendant when carrying out an inspection to dig around at the base of every tree. The honey fungus infection would not have been evident at the time of a visual inspection.

Claim dismissed.

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