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In a recent Appeals Court unreported decision, Joseph v. Nathanson, the appeals court has given us a broader definition of “destroyed” or cutting down.

The statute is Mass. General Law chapter 242 sec. 7, which reads : “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.”

The defendant removed between 5 to 6 feet from the top of the arbor vitae trees which were planted on the plaintiff’s property, near the property line as a privacy screen.  The court found that “”otherwise destroyed” includes, but is not limited to, the preceding phrases including ‘cut down.’ ”  The expert witness testified that the trees would never grow vertically again, and would not function as a privacy screen.

The plaintiff was awarded $35,000 in damages which were trebled under the statute.

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