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Local authorities owe a wide range of health and safety duties to the public and are obliged to pay compensation if someone is injured because they fail to meet them. In one case, a bus driver who narrowly survived when an 80-foot tree fell on his cab in high winds has won the right to up to £500,000 in damages.
The driver was in intensive care for two weeks after the accident. He suffered a brain injury, sustained numerous fractures to his face and body and lost the use of his right hand. He sued the local authority, whose duty it is to regularly inspect trees in its area to ensure that they do not pose a hazard to pedestrians and motorists.
Although the tree had appeared healthy at first sight, it was badly affected by fungus and its roots were in a state of severe and extensive decay. The council had contracted an independent tree surgeon to inspect trees in its area every three years and argued that that was sufficient to meet its statutory duty.
In upholding the driver's claim, however, the Court noted that the tree posed a high risk due to its age, size and position, leaning over a road. In the circumstances, inspections had been required at least every two years. Had such a system been in place, the decay would have been identified in time to avert the accident. The precise amount of the driver's damages has yet to be assessed.