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Mitigating the risk of tree subsidence claims

22 March 2023

According to figures released by the Association of British Insurance, carriers will expect to pay out £219m for subsidence claims made in 2022. The summer heatwave led to 18,000 subsidence claims and the expected bill is expected to be the largest annual pay-out for subsidence since 2006.

Tree subsidence is a common problem in areas with mature trees and occurs when the roots of a tree grow and cause damage to nearby buildings. Record high summer temperatures and prolonged periods of dry weather combined with clay soils, further exacerbate these conditions. Local councils are often responsible for maintaining trees on public land, and as a result, they may face tree subsidence claims from property owners who have suffered building damage caused by nearby trees. 

To mitigate the risk of tree subsidence claims, councils should have a suitable system in place for inspecting and maintaining trees, responding to complaints and managing risks. Councils should also take out insurance as coverage for costs of claims that may arise. Although many councils will cover small to medium sized claims to reduce insurance premiums.

Loss Adjusters

Loss adjusters can play a valuable role in assessing a council's liability in a tree subsidence claim. This could include a review of the council's tree management policies and procedures, an inspection of the tree in question, and even a review of any relevant reports or complaints. They may also consult with arborists, engineers, and other experts to determine the cause and extent of the damage.

Once the loss adjuster has completed their investigation, they will provide a findings report that will give both a summary of the council's liability for the damage and recommendations for any necessary repairs or remediation. The report can also be evidence in a legal claim and an important tool in negotiating a settlement or determining liability. Loss adjusters working in this area of expertise will usually have a deep understanding of both insurance claims and arboriculture, covering matters like tree biology, construction techniques, building materials and extreme weather conditions. 

Our team

Our loss adjusting team works closely with local authorities to understand all manner of claims, particularly tree subsidence claims, which can be problematic if unaddressed. Our experts understand the importance of appropriate investigation into such complex claims. 

Tree subsidence claims against local councils can be difficult to prove, but if a property owner can establish that the council breached its duty of care and caused damage to their property, they may be able to claim compensation. Local councils should take relevant steps to manage trees on public land and mitigate the risk of claims. In the event of a tree subsidence claim, the use of loss adjusters is critical when it comes to assessing council liability, given their wealth of knowledge and expertise and ability to ensure that claims are thoroughly investigated and liability is fairly apportioned.

Case Study

The claimant provided evidence in the form of a structural engineer's investigation report. The report detailed the building cracking and water ingress to the basement, concluding that the defective condition was due to the trees on our client's adjacent land.

The report had drawn its conclusion without the benefit of supporting evidence. We responded to the claimant to refute liability on the basis that the investigation had not determined the type and depth of the building's foundations. Neither had it identified the soil type and ground water level, or analysed a tree root.

In many cases, claimants will benefit from solicitors that are well versed in the evidence requirements of a tree root claim, so the above example is an exception. However, a well-evidenced claim can still be negotiated to result in a best-case settlement. This often depends on the type of remedial works and we find that the latest innovations in structural repairs are not being exploited for best value. Costs can be reduced significantly.

Acting early to assess the merits or failings of a tree root claim is essential to limit the extent of structural damage and subsequent costs of repair. Contact Rob Glynn to discuss a claim, or for assistance in how to reduce the risk of claims in the future.

Further Reading