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Legal options after a neighbor has cut down a tree on your property

by | Aug 23, 2022

If a neighbor or someone else has cut down a tree, bush, or similar object on your property, you may be entitled to pursue a legal trespass and property damage claim.  These incidents often happen when during the course of clearing his or her own trees, a neighbor proceeds to cross the property line and accidentally or intentionally cuts down valuable trees in another yard.

Although it may have been a mistake, trees can often be expensive to replace, and the innocent person who had their tree cut down should not be stuck with a missing tree – or with the bill to replace!  Fortunately, victims of property damage such as having a tree cut down are entitled to monetary compensation and damages under Ohio law.

In addition to standard “compensatory damages,” property damage victims may be entitled to damages under Ohio Revised Code Section 901.51, which is entitled “Injuring vines, bushes, trees, or crops on land of another.” The law states that: “No person, without privilege to do so, shall recklessly cut down, destroy, girdle, or otherwise injure a vine, bush, shrub, sapling, tree, or crop standing or growing on the land of another or upon public land. In addition to the penalty provided in section 901.99 of the Revised Code, whoever violates this section is liable in treble damages for the injury caused.”

What this means is that if the victim’s tree was cut down in a “reckless” fashion, the victim is entitled to “treble” (meaning triple) damages.  For example, if the cost to replace the tree is $1,000, the victim is entitled to $3,000 in damages.  This is often a surprise to the person who cut down the tree, who may only want to compensate the victim a small amount, if at all.  The best thing for the victim to do after a tree is wrongfully cut down is to document the situation by take pictures of the area where the tree used to be (including the stump) and to get an estimate from a tree farm or tree nursery as to how much it will cost to replace the tree that was cut down with a similar sized tree.

Oftentimes the big issue in these types of cases is whether or not the tree was cut down “recklessly” so as to entitle the victim to treble (or triple) damages.  Fortunately, there is some favorable case law indicating that “recklessly” is construed broadly in tree cases.

In the case of Henderson v. Bowersock, 7th Dist. No. 94-C-71, 1996 WL 734047, the court found that the defendant who “was unsure where his property line was,” “mistakenly believed that the timber in question was situated on land which he owned,” and “did not purposely disregard a known property line” was still reckless under 901.51 because he “failed to establish his property line prior to making money from a permanent act.” As such, the court affirmed the award of treble damages and expressly rejected the proposition that a “mere mistake” on the part of the offender will negate finding of recklessness. Id.

Another case is Judeh v. Mahoning Valley Timber & Land Co., 7th Dist. No. 03-MA-138, 2004-Ohio-4819. In Judeh, the defendant contracted to have timber removed from his land, trees were erroneously removed from the plaintiff’s land, and the court awarded $6,000 in compensatory damages – and then trebled the damages to $18,000. In trebling the damages, the court cited the defendant’s failure to remain within the boundary line, which was made visible by a line of trees.

Yet another case is Coldsnow v. Hartshorne, 7th Dist. No. 01CO65, 2003-Ohio-1233 in which the defendant hired a forester to do logging with the intent to sell some of the trees on his property. The forester erroneously removed trees from the plaintiff’s land, the jury awarded $11,500 in compensatory damages, and the trial court trebled the damages to $34,500. In trebling the damages, the court cited the fact that the defendant “merely told [the contractor] where he thought the boundary line was and told him to stay 15-20 feet back from it. He did not ask [the plaintiff] where he thought the boundary line was or have it established conclusively through a survey.”

The case law also makes clear that both restoration/replacement costs and the diminution in value of the land are compensable damages in this type of case. It has been explicitly held that “in an action for compensatory damages for cutting, destroying and damaging trees and other growth, and for related damage to the land, when the owner intends to use the property for a residence or for recreation or for both, according to his personal tastes and wishes, the owner is not limited to the diminution in value (difference in value of the whole property before and after the damage) or to the stumpage or other commercial value of the timber.” Denoyer v. Lamb (1984) 22 Ohio App.3d 136, 138.

Indeed, “restoration/replacement cost of the trees is a proper measure of damages when the injured party intended to use the property for residential and/or recreational purposes, according to their personal tastes and wishes.” Coldsnow at ¶9.

Oftentimes, a stern letter from an attorney to the at-fault party outlining the law and factual merits of a claim is all that is necessary in order to effectuate a settlement of the matter.

If a neighbor or someone else has cut down a tree, bush, or similar object on your property, contact Dodosh Law Offices, LLC at 8442535291. Or, you can fill out a contact form and Attorney Dodosh will get in touch with you.