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Punitive damages awarded for cutting neighbor’s tree

In Gibson v. F.K. Developments Ltd., the plaintiff sued the defendants for entering her property and cutting down a large tree in her backyard. The defendants were a development company and its principal, who happened to own a home located above and behind the plaintiff’s property. The defendants were found liable in trespass and conversion for topping the tree.

Prior to cutting down the tree, the defendants approached the plaintiff about doing so; at which time, the plaintiff voiced her opposition. When the plaintiff noticed the tree falling crews cutting the tree she pleaded with them to stop, but they ignored her protests.

In awarding damages, the court considered the importance of the tree to the plaintiff and that its removal left a large gap in the trees screening the back of her property. The court awarded $10,000 in general damages as well as special damages to compensate the plaintiff for full removal of the tree, in addition to $4,500 for the cost of retaining the surviving trees that were affected by the tree’s removal.

Although the court declined to award aggravated damages, it made a punitive damages award of $10,000 against each defendant. The court factored in that the defendants intended to cut down the tree in question knowing full well that the plaintiff was opposed to their doing so, and did so in a manner designed to inhibit the plaintiff’s ability to interfere. Also considered was the defendants’ intention to profit by topping the tree as a way to improve views from the development, and the personal improvement of the personal defendant’s property view. Such conduct was found to be high-handed, reprehensible, and a marked departure from ordinary standards of conduct. Overall, the plaintiff received a damages award of $35,150 as compensation for the loss of one large Douglas Fir tree.

Case summary by Caroline Alexander