This is the next post in our blog series on Natural Resources and Environmental Law. Previously, I’ve written about how a landowner can fight back against pollution from neighboring lands. In this post I’ll be discussing my favorite area in my environmental practice: lawsuits over damage to trees.
Oklahoma Law allows people to file Lawsuits over timber, because Trees are Important to Landowners, and Trees add real value to Land in Oklahoma.
Trees are precious. I certainly value my own trees. They provide shade, serenity, and privacy to my property, as well as compliment the atmosphere. Trees are a beautiful thing; the grandest of which represent the culmination of decades and decades of natural growth. But a magnificent tree cannot be obtained overnight. As one arborist once told me, you don’t plant trees for yourself but for your grandchildren.
Further, trees add monetary value to land, that is recognized in the real estate market. Ranches and acreage with scenic trees and coverage may be worth more money than comparable land without such forestry. Likewise, houses in an older neighborhood with mature trees may garner more dollars per square foot than a newly constructed subdivision in a suburban area that completely lacks any mature trees.
If your land has large trees hanging over it, they weren’t planted yesterday. More likely over half a century ago. So what can you do if someone wrongfully destroys or damages your trees?
If someone destroys your trees or damages your land in Oklahoma, You Need to Hire a Lawyer that understands the Value of Natural Resources, and File a Lawsuit seeking as much Compensation as possible for the Damaged Trees and Land.
Oklahoma law allows a landowner to sue for 3 to 10 times the value of trees lost. This law is well established and upheld in Oklahoma. The reason being is that trees, as previously discussed, are precious, valuable natural resources that do not grow overnight.
When a person (or more likely an oil company or government entity), without any right whatsoever, destroys or demolishes the trees on your land, they have caused great detriment to you as a landowner. Even if you are able to replace the lost trees with a complete nursery full of Saplings, you may never live to see those young trees grow into what you previously had. In fact, your children may not even live to see those trees mature into their true potential. Which is why you deserve much more compensation than just the intrinsic value of the lost trees; you deserve compensation many times more than that, to make up for the fact that when you replace the lost trees, you will never live to see them fully mature.
In a Lawsuit, the amount of compensation is calculated as the difference in value of the land before and after the damage.
In cases involving damage to land, Oklahoma law awards the plaintiff damages for diminution in value, as opposed to replacement value. That is to say that the measure of compensation you deserve will be the dollar amount your land has decreased since the damage. Trees are considered part of the real estate and are not separated from it. Therefore, the remedy for loss of trees is what the land is worth without those trees.
One option is to hire an appraisal of what the land is worth without the trees. However, you will need a prior appraisal of the land when it had the trees to compare it to the appraisal of the land without the trees, or with damaged trees.
Another way of calculating the correct compensation is to estimate exactly what those trees were worth. There are qualified experts who can assign an intrinsic value to the trees based on the quantity, kind, species, and other factors. This is different than calculating replacement value. Replacement value will usually be a higher amount. However I have obtained six-figure settlements for tree damage using intrinsic value and then adding treble and punitive damages.
In Oklahoma, you are entitled to “3 to 10 times” the damage to the land, so as to punish the Defendant.
As referenced above, you are entitled to damages that are “three to ten times” the actual value of your trees/land/timber. This is how it works: the jury is instructed to treble, i.e. multiply, the actual damage by “not less than three times, nor more than ten times.” In law, this multiplication is referred to as “trebling” the damages, (another form of punitive damages), for the purpose is punishing those who willfully destroy another’s trees.
When we take your case to trial, we will first demonstrate what those trees were worth. Then, we will seek to “treble” the damages, meaning multiply the tree value as allowed by Oklahoma law. The Jury may take that value and then multiple any where between three and ten.
As an example, if we are able to prove that your lost trees had an intrinsic value of $20,000, the jury then must multiply that figure by no less than three, nor more than ten. Thus, you are looking at damages in the range of $60,000 to $200,000.
If you prevail in your Tree Damage Lawsuit in Oklahoma, you are entitled to recover your Attorney Fees and expenses incurred during the lawsuit.
Oklahoma law grants the prevailing party in tree cases their attorney fees and related costs incurred. In a tree case, costs can be expensive, because of the importance of having reliable expert testimony and appraisal of the land and damage. You need to have a qualified expert, one with the education, training, skills, and experience to give a proper appraisal of the trees. On an hourly basis, this can become expensive, as the expert will need to spend many hours on the land, inspecting the trees, the land, the trunks or remaining remnants, and other evidence. However, whenever I take on cases involving injury to timber, I always advance these costs on behalf of my client, so that we can start working your case immediately, regardless of whether you have the funds necessary to bring the lawsuit.
Take Action Now! Call Oklahoma City’s Premier Tree Lawyer!
If you are suffering from the malicious or intentional destruction of your trees, call Travis Charles Smith, Oklahoma City’s premier tree lawyer. We have the experts, the money, and the experience to litigate your claims and obtain compensation for your loss, with no up-font expenses to you. Our tree damage lawsuits are always on a contingency basis: We charge the client nothing unless we win and we finance all the litigation expenses!