Facts: A property owner removed a common boundary tree whose trunk was located on the property line between their property and a neighbor’s adjoining property. The tree disproportionally benefited the neighbor’s property, providing extensive shade to the property. The neighbor sued for wrongful removal of the tree and was awarded statutory restoration damages for twice the value of the tree.
Claim: The owner sought to reduce the amount owed in damages, claiming the owner was only compelled to pay twice the tree’s value proportional to the portion of the trunk which sat on the neighbor’s property.
Counterclaim: The neighbor sought the full, original restoration award, claiming the removal of the tree was detrimental to the property since the tree was disproportionally advantageous to the neighbor’s property.
Holding: A California court of appeals held the owner is liable for the statutory award of twice the value of the full tree, not just the proportional portion of the trunk on the neighbor’s property, since the removal of the tree was detrimental to the property as the tree disproportionally benefited the neighbor’s property. [Kallis v. Sones (2012) 208 CA4th 1274]
Editor’s note – In cases of wrongful injury to trees, damages are awarded for either twice or three times the injury. Damages are awarded for twice the injury if the damage was committed unintentionally and without malice. Damages are awarded for three times the injury if the damage was committed knowingly. The owner in this case was penalized for twice the injury since they removed the tree under the assumption they were the sole owner of the tree and that it presented a safety hazard. [Calif. Civil Code §3346(a)]