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Opinion: A giant branch crashed into a Victoria house but the city forced him to sue for damages

Victoria resident warned the city their tree was a ‘hazard’
Did the City of Victoria do enough to protect a resident from an oak tree? (Pexels photo)

Trees are a wonderful thing.

They provide oxygen to the world and calm you down just by hearing the wind blow their leaves.

But if you don’t take care of them, they can make your life miserable.

Case in point, a Victoria man who got a shock when an oak branch crashed into his house, knocking out his power and damaging his garage door and more.

The issue is who should have to pay for the damages, the homeowner or the City of Victoria.

Why the city? Well, the oak tree is located on city property. The homeowner alleged the city was negligent in how it managed this particular oak tree – even ignoring his warnings.

And so the Victoria resident was forced to take the city to the BC Civil Resolution Tribunal. He sought $2,675.58 for property damage and reconnecting his electrical services.

The oak branch crashed into the man’s home after a windstorm and it could have been a lot worse if someone had been standing in its path.

The man said the city “knew the oak tree was a hazard and failed to address it,” according to the CRT ruling.

In response, the city denied liability for the damage.

“The City says it took reasonable care to maintain the oak tree and did not know, nor ought to have known, that the oak tree’s limb would fall and cause damage.”

The case, while only dealing with a few thousand dollars, is important – at least I think so - because it goes to the heart of city services and what should be expected of a city. Residents always complain about how high their taxes are (not saying I agree that they are “high”) and they expect Cadillac services in exchange.

There are a lot of trees on public land in Victoria, a city that has a large workforce dedicated to taking care of them. But how much responsibility should they bear for those trees when a storm hits?

Well, a lot, according to the CRT.

“(The homeowner) says the limbs and branches of a large oak tree on the City’s boulevard had grown through the BC Hydro power supply lines to his house,” read the CRT ruling.

So the man contacted the city, which sent out an arborist, who “determined it was healthy,” although the ruling said the city did not offer anything in writing by the arborist in evidence.

The city did issue a request for service of the tree that stated “cyclical prune, and clear service” but following that request, the city “did not return to prune the clear the oak tree from the power lines,” the CRT ruling said.

The city had previously inspected the tree about six years previously, said the ruling.

A little more than two months later, the storm hit and the oak branch did its thing.

The city argued that it took steps to “abate the nuisance” by scheduling the oak tree for future pruning within six months, said the ruling, which added that the city, however, provided no records to show that it had actively scheduled the pruning.

“I find the City took no positive steps” after preparing the request for service, the ruling stated, and so it found the City of Victoria liable in “nuisance” but found no need to decide if it was liable in negligence.

The more I read, the more it seemed obvious the city got it wrong and so it was disappointing that it didn’t just pay the homeowner instead of spending more tax dollars to fight it.

Because a lawyer ain’t cheap.

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Chris Campbell is an editor with Black Press Media at the Victoria hub of newspapers. You can follow him on Twitter @shinebox44.

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Chris Campbell

About the Author: Chris Campbell

I joined the Victoria News hub as an editor in 2023, bringing with me over 30 years of experience from community newspapers in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley
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