I own land abutting a public road and several trees overhang onto the road. Thankfully none fell during the recent storms. Please explain my responsibilities in terms maintaining or cutting trees on my land adjacent a public road. Am I liable if the tree falls and causes damage?
This is a question posed by many following the recent stormy weather. As a general rule, a land owner or occupier (that includes farmers renting land) are responsible for ensuring that trees are safe from falling branches. Under the Roads Act, 1993, the owner or occupier of land is obliged to take all reasonable steps to ensure that a tree, shrub, hedge or other vegetation on the land is not a hazard or potential hazard to persons using a public road and that it does not obstruct or interfere with the safe use of a public road or the maintenance of a public road.
The owner and/or occupier of land upon which trees stand are generally liable for any loss or damage resulting from falling trees. However, tree damage caused during a stormy event is usually considered a natural event and the land owner and/or occupier may not be considered liable.
In terms of damage to property or injuries caused as a result of trees or branches falling in non-stormy weather liability of the land owner or occupier will depend on the condition of the tree before it fell. If it can be proven that the tree was dead or dying, the landowner where the tree was located could be considered negligent for not properly maintaining the tree and consequently liable for any damage caused.
Anyone with responsibility for land or trees should put in place procedures to identify, manage and reduce the risk of damage or injury. Where a contractor is used, it is essential to ensure any person carrying out work is competent and has adequate public liability insurance that covers the contractor and their employer (the occupier), against any unforeseen consequence of the work.