Russell v. Man

Facts: A contractor buys a vacant lot to build a residential improvement. A large pine tree straddles the common lot line with a neighboring property. A development code in the city forbids digging in a tree’s critical root zone. During construction, a trench is dug which cuts the roots of the tree owned by the neighboring property owner and kills it.

Claim: The neighbor seeks money losses from the contractor claiming the boundary tree died due to the contractor wrongfully and negligently cutting the roots creating a timber trespass onto the neighbor’s property which subjects the contractor to treble money liability.

Counterclaim: The contractor claims they injured the tree while on their own property, not while trespassing on the neighbor’s property and did not act maliciously and thus no treble damages can be awarded.

Holding: A California appeals court holds no trespass occurred on the neighbor’s property permitting treble damages but awards the neighbor the cost to replace the tree since the contractor’s negligence killed the tree by digging in a tree’s critical root zone, an unlawful act under city codes. [Russell v. Man (November 17, 2020) _CA6th_]

Read the case text here.