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Published: Wed, 07 Mar 2018
Crowhurst v Amersham Burial Board  LR 4 Ex D 5
Non-Natural use of land, planting of trees/plants with potentially toxic properties
The defendant planted a yew tree on their property, however these trees were planted very close to the claimant’s own property (approximately 4 feet away). Over time, the trees grew and eventually the branches grew to the point that they reached over the fence separating the two properties. Due to this, the leaves of the tree were able to fall on the claimant’s property where the claimant’s horse was able to eat them. The horse did just that and eventually died from yew poisoning as yew leaves are toxic to different types of farm animals such as cows and apparently, horses. The claimant brought an action against the defendant for damages for the death of his horse. This claim was based on the rule in Rylands v Fletcher.
The issue in this case was whether planting a tree could be treated as a non-natural use of the land in the context and therefore bring the case under the scope of the rule in Rylands v Fletcher.
The court held that the defendant was liable for the damage caused to the claimant due to his planting of the yew tree. Since the tree had poisonous properties (at least for some animals), this was a non-natural use of the land. It could not be an ordinary use to plant trees which have the potential to harm the livestock of one’s neighbours and this can be seen as bringing something dangerous onto the land. Further, the tree could be said to have “escaped” the land as its branches reached out onto neighbouring land, even though the tree itself obviously did not move.
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