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Judge Clears Highway Authority of Blame for Falling Tree Tragedy

Roadside trees can pose a hazard to motorists, but that has to be balanced against their important contribution to the beauty of the streetscape and wildlife habitats. A judge made that point in a case concerning a cherry tree that fell in stormy weather, causing a motorist's tragic death.

The father of three, in his 40s, was driving on a trunk road amidst high winds and torrential rain when the tree fell onto his car. He died at the scene. His widow launched proceedings against the local highway authority on whose land the tree stood. She alleged that the authority had failed in its duty to take reasonable and prudent steps to ensure that the tree did not become a danger.

Ruling on the matter, the judge noted that the 60-year-old tree had an asymmetrical crown and root system. Standing alongside a historic drainage ditch, it had a slight lean towards the road. However, it was in normal health before it fell and there was no specific evidence of decay, cracks or cavities in its trunk.

In dismissing the claim, the judge found that the tree was regularly inspected on the authority's behalf by expert arboriculturists who used all reasonable care in doing so. There were no visible signs that it was vulnerable to high wind or rainfall and any risk of it falling would not have been apparent to an ordinarily skilled tree inspector.

Whilst expressing sympathy for the driver's family, the judge noted that the authority was obliged to do no more than was reasonable to ensure the safety of tree-lined roads. Requiring the authority to take a more risk-averse approach would result in the unnecessary removal of trees and accompanying destruction of habitats. The judge was satisfied that no one was to blame for the accident.

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