By Robert Nislick

“What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.” – Mahatma Gandhi

People cut down trees. People cut down each other. People cut down each other’s trees. In Massachusetts, if someone cuts down your trees, you may be able to sue him.

General Laws c. 242, § 7, states:

“A person who without license willfully cuts down, carries away, girdles or otherwise destroys trees, timber, wood or underwood on the land of another shall be liable to the owner in tort for three times the amount of the damages assessed therefor; but if it is found that the defendant had good reason to believe that the land on which the trespass was committed was his own or that he was otherwise lawfully authorized to do the acts complained of, he shall be liable for single damages only.”

G. L. c. 242, § 7.

It is unfortunate that some neighbors do not respect each other’s property. Perhaps, a neighbor has cut down your trees to spite you. Maybe he has cut your trees to improve his view. Possibly, he is clearing your trees to add to his lawn.

If any of these events occur, contact Robert Nislick, a Massachusetts attorney, and former Land Court law clerk, to discuss your rights and remedies.

The Massachusetts trespass to trees statute, G. L. c. 242, § 7, provides landowners with a remedy against someone who willfully cuts down someone else’s trees. The wrongdoer shall be liable to the owner for three times the amount of damages, unless he had good reason to believe the land was his own, or he was lawfully authorized to cut the trees. “The mandated trebling of damages represents a legislative judgment as to the punitive measure required to dissuade wrongdoers.” Glavin v. Eckman, 71 Mass. App. Ct. 313, 322 (2008).

In Glavin, the defendants were looking to enhance their view of the ocean. They hired a landscaping company to top and remove the trees that stood in the way. The landscaper cut down ten large, mature oak trees standing on the property of a neighbor, without permission. The jury assessed $30,000 in damages as the reasonable cost of restoring the property as nearly as reasonably possible to its original condition. The judge trebled those damages.

The Appeals Court affirmed, and found that restoration costs were a reasonable way to measure the plaintiff’s damages, as opposed to looking at the value of the timber wrongfully cut, or the diminution of market value of the property as a result of the cutting.

The plaintiffs in Glavin supported their claim for damages through the expert testimony of an arborist, who had extensive experience in appraising the value of destroyed trees, and who testified that the replacement cost method was accepted within the community of professional arborists.

In another case, Ritter v. Bergmann, 72 Mass. App. Ct. 296 (2008), the Appeals Court affirmed the Land Court’s award of treble damages totaling $130,782, to the plaintiff, based also on the restoration cost measure of damages. In Ritter, the defendants cut down many trees and damaged others on land they did not own. The Court noted that the damage to the plaintiff that resulted from the defendants cutting down of trees was not only the potential loss in value of the property, but also the loss of the plaintiff’s privacy.

The Ritter Court also held that the Land Court had jurisdiction over the plaintiff’s trespass to trees claim where that claim was ancillary to other claims she had that were within the Land Court’s jurisdiction.

If you are in the midst of a dispute with your neighbor, or if you have been sued, contact Robert Nislick, a Massachusetts attorney, today.

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