Citation. 881 N.E.2d 820 (Mass. App. Ct. 2008).
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Brief Fact Summary.
In order to enhance the Eckman’s view of the ocean they hired a landscaping company to take down trees on their neighbor’s yard without permission.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Restoration damages and treble damages are an appropriate remedy and are not excessive for a claim of trespass and destruction of property.
The Glavins’, Gentrys’ and Eckman’s all own property near a lake on Martha’s Vineyard. Glavin had plans to restore the wetlands on his land. Mr. Eckman asked if he could cut down certain trees on Mr. Glavin’s property and he refused. Mr. Eckman hired Fragosa of Three Trees, Ltd to trim down trees that blocked his view of the ocean. Mr. Eckman ordered them to enhance the view to the max. It was clear that the job would require cutting of trees on other people’s properties. Fragosa received permission from Gentry to cut down trees on his land for the job for the Eckmans. While cutting down trees on Gentry’s property Fragosa went between 50 and 100 feet over Gentry’s property line onto the Galvin’s property and cut down mature oak trees. The court awarded the amount it would take to restore the trees and then treble damages where applied for an award of 90,000.00.
Whether restoration damages are appropriate when typically actual damages or market value depreciation damages are used and whether treble damages are excessive.
A Judge has broad discretion to determine the appropriate damages applicable to a trespass action. The applicable statute only states that treble damages are allowed, it does not state what kind of damages would be tripled. It was argued that typically actual damages or market depreciation damages is what will be typically given and more appropriate here. However in this case, to award only those types of damages may encourage others to trespass. Sometimes when a party cuts down trees it may even increase the property value; however, there is a harm that the home owner suffers. A home owners right to exclude others from his or her property is an important property right and appropriate damages will be awarded for trespass offenses. The Eckmans argue that Three Trees Ltd is an independent contractor and that they shouldn’t be responsible for their actions and the court disagreed because it was clear from their description of the job that they intended that Three Trees Ltd cut down those trees.
When appropriate, a Judge may award restoration damages to make a property owner whole. Typically in trespass actions the actual damages do not always amount to sufficient price to deter others from trespassing. Restoration damage is not excessive.