Overview: Think twice before you cut or trim your neighbor’s trees to improve your view. California’s laws for wrongful and malicious tree and timber cutting just got enhanced by the new case of Fulle v. Kanani, where the Court of Appeal allowed treble damages not only for the cost to repair the harm to the property and the damage to the trees maliciously cut, but also for the first time in California the emotional distress suffered by the wronged homeowner.
California has had laws since 1851 allowing treble damages for anyone who wrongfully cuts another person’s trees or timber. It always surprises me that someone would cut their neighbor’s trees to improve their view, but I’ve had a fair amount of these cases. After the case of Fulle v. Kanani, it just got worse for the bad-guy tree cutter. Appropriately so.
Six Mature Trees Cut
Jeanette Fulle resides at her home in a hillside neighborhood of Encino, California, downhill from a home acquired by Kaveh Kanani. To improve his view of the San Fernando Valley, Kanani hired a crew to cut down the limbs and branches of six trees on Fulle’s property – of course without her permission. They decimated the trees. If you think a view of the San Fernando Valley causes bad tree cutting behavior, I can assure you a view of Lake Tahoe is even more of an incentive.
Neighbor Sues Tree-Cutting Neighbor
Fulle sued Kanani for trespass and negligence seeking treble damages and/or double damages under Civil Code Section 3346 and Section 733 of the Code of Civil Procedure. Fulle sought money for the damages to the trees, the cost of repairing the harm and for “annoyance and discomfort, loss of enjoyment of the real property and emotional distress.”
And she wanted all of those damages trebled, including the more intangible annoyance, discomfort and emotional distress damages — which is the first time a California court has ruled on that issue.
To summarize California law: Tree cutting now has three measures of damages: “(1) for willful and malicious cutting, the court may impose treble damages but must impose double damages; (2) for casual and involuntary tree cutting, the court must impose double damages; and (3) for trespass under legal authority (e.g. Caltrans trimming trees), actual damages.”
The basic damages are diminishment of market value or the cost of restoring the property to its original condition.
Courts have ruled a plaintiff may recover damages for annoyance and discomfort for wrongly-cut trees if the owner lived on the property at the time of the trespass, and thus suffered personal annoyance and discomfort.
This Court of Appeals addressed the unanswered legal question of trebling the annoyance and discomfort damages, concluding “annoyance and discomfort damages resulting from tortious (wrongful) injuries to timber or trees are subject to the damage multiplier under Sections 3346 and 733. Where, as here, the jury finds willful and malicious conduct by the (tree cutting) defendant, the trial court must award double damages and has discretion to award treble damages for annoyance and discomfort.”
Plus of course, double or treble damages for the value of the trees or timber and reduction in value of the property or cost of restoring the property to its pre-tree cutting condition. Restoring the property includes planting of new trees and aftercare costs.
The Court succinctly pointed out the purpose of Section 3346: “to educate blunderers (persons who mistake location of boundary lines) and to discourage rogues (persons who ignore boundary lines), to protect timber from being cut by others than the owner.”
Think twice (or three times) about trimming or cutting your neighbor’s trees.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. Jim’s practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOA’s, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.portersimon.com.
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