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Storm Fallen Trees Constitutes Neighbour Nuisance

Tuesday 03 March 2015

A French court has ruled that a property owner could not claim ‘act of God’ for damage caused to their neighbour’s property by fallen trees during a storm.

During a cyclone that occurred in South West France in January 1999, several pine trees located on a farm in the Landes department of France fell on the property of a neighbour.

The fallen trees, most of which were over 20 metres in height, destroyed a garden shed, a swimming pool enclosure and a dividing fence belonging to the neighbour.

As a result, the neighbour brought a legal action for the damage on grounds of neighbour nuisance.

The court found in his favour and awarded him damages of €21,000 against the farmer.

The farmer appealed the ruling on the grounds that the cyclone was a ‘force majeure’ and as such, an event that exonerated him from all responsibility.

As part of his case, he argued that the trees were planted the permitted legal distance from his neighbour’s property and that the tree plantation was well maintained.

He also argued that although the presence of trees might have been a ‘risk’, by itself this did not constitue 'un trouble anormal de voisinage' within the meaning of the law.

However, the court also heard that the trees had already been the subject of dispute between the two owners when, following the intervention of a huissier in 2006, the farmer agreed to cut down some of the most offending trees near the property of his neighbour.

In upholding the decision of the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court (Cour de Cassation) ruled that the risk due to the presence of these trees endangering the safety of persons and property constituted an abnormal neighbour nuisance. Under these conditions, the storm at the origin of the falling trees did not have the character of force majeure.

The ruling confirmed earlier rulings that, by itself, storm damage did not constitute force majeure, which could be qualified by an examination of the circumstances in each case.

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