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Ryan v. Bottrell

A-3988-02T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2004) (Unpublished)

TRESPASS; DAMAGES—Whatever called, the measure of damages for the cutting of trees on the other side of one’s property line is the fair and reasonable cost of restoring the land to a reasonable approximation of its former condition.

A property owner cut down its neighbors’ trees along a common boundary, leading the neighbor to bring suit. After a trial, a jury awarded damages to the neighbors. On appeal, the tree cutters argued that the award was inflated because the neighbors’ counsel referred to the concept of “destruction value” as opposed to “restoration value.” The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s holding, holding that the distinction between “destruction value” and “restoration value” was only a matter of semantics. Regardless, these characterizations by the attorney were not considered evidence and the jury was told so.

The crucial component was the judge’s jury instructions. The lower court instructed that the measure of damages was the fair and reasonable cost of restoring the land to a reasonable approximation of its former condition. It also instructed that the neighbors had offered testimony from their landscaper as to the number, species, nature, the size of the trees, and the cost to replace them. On the other hand, the wrongdoers offered no proof of damages contending only that the neighbors’ tally of damages was too high. The Court was satisfied with the lower court’s jury instructions. Furthermore, the testimony by the only expert to testify could have reasonably led to the damages awarded by the jury. The Court pointed out that a jury is not required to accept an expert’s opinion, but assessing the credibility of a testifying expert is well within the province of the jury.


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