We are fortunate to be living in the northwest where we are surrounded by trees. Unfortunately many neighborly disputes arise because of it. Under WA’s tree statute (see below RCW 64.12.030), a person who intentionally goes upon another’s land to remove a tree is subject to a liability of treble damages. Because the purpose of the timber statute is to deter intentional trespass, “casual or involuntary” trespass is limited to single damages (see below RCW 64.12.040). Moreover, WA cases held that landowners have a duty to protect others against dangerous trees in urban areas if they have actual notice or constructive notice. Constructive notice includes situations in which a tree’s dangerous condition is so obvious that the landowner should have known of the danger.
In the case Gostina v. Ryland – a 1921 case that remains good law today – the WA Supreme Court recognized that after notice to the offender, a property owner has the right to cut tree limbs on their side of a property line if the offender refused to do anything about the nuisance.
Injury to or removing trees, etc. — Damages.
Whenever any person shall cut down, girdle, or otherwise injure, or carry off any tree, including a Christmas tree as defined in RCW 76.48.020, timber, or shrub on the land of another person, or on the street or highway in front of any person’s house, city or town lot, or cultivated grounds, or on the commons or public grounds of any city or town, or on the street or highway in front thereof, without lawful authority, in an action by the person, city, or town against the person committing the trespasses or any of them, any judgment for the plaintiff shall be for treble the amount of damages claimed or assessed.
Mitigating circumstances — Damages.
If upon trial of such action it shall appear that the trespass was casual or involuntary, or that the defendant had probable cause to believe that the land on which such trespass was committed was his own, or that of the person in whose service or by whose direction the act was done, or that such tree or timber was taken from uninclosed woodlands, for the purpose of repairing any public highway or bridge upon the land or adjoining it, judgment shall only be given for single damages.
**The information contained here is general legal information and should not be construed as legal advice to be applied to any specific factual situation.