The cause of action of Trespass is pretty simple. You cross into someone else's property, you are wrong. The complexity of the cause of action arises from the damages caused by the Trespass. If there are no damages, there is no cause of action.
The Minnesota Supreme Court just addressed what a tree is worth in a trespass case. Factually, two neighbors had a long-standing dispute over one neighbor trespassing onto the others' property. The trespassing apparently caused little to no damage, ostensibly the reason for there not being any prior suits. But, when the non-trespassing neighbor recently returned from a trip to Scandinavia, he found the trespassing neighbor had cleared a cluster of trees and installed some impervious elements in the cleared area
Of note, the cleared trees were mature, healthy, provided much-desired shade, wind protection, and sound protection. Also of note, the removal of the trees by the trespassing neighbor was deemed intentional. What then is the value of the removed trees?
The first measure of damages is the estimated cost to replace the removed trees. The Court will not require a 20 foot Fraser Fir be replaced with a 20 foot Fraser Fir. That exchange is deemed economically impractical. So, to replace one mature tree, the cost to replace anywhere from 3-5 young trees per removed tree was ordered by the district court, and approved by the Supreme Court.
Additionally, Minnesota has a statutory deterrent to such inane conduct. In this case, as a penalty for removing trees intentionally, the prevailing party was awarded treble damages. So, the trespasser's bill for $46,000 to replace the removed trees tripled to $138,000!
Land issues can get personal and contentious quickly. Contact me to learn and prepare on how to de-escalate disputes quickly through the use of professionals and written communications. It just might save you a lot more money than you realize.
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