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Dispute over fir tree moves to Switzerland’s highest court

Dispute over fir tree moves to Switzerland’s highest court

A water pipe, a fir tree and 6.800 Swiss francs in damages are the key components of an unusual case that the Federal Supreme Court in Switzerland recently had to weigh in on. 

Couple in Bern were unhappy with the Gemeinde

Authorities in Oberaargau were searching for a water pipe that was not listed on the local land registry and, while searching for the pipe, needed to drill through a couple’s much-loved 15-metre tall fir tree. Unfortunately, the tree was damaged beyond the point of being able to recover. Its' owners were very unhappy with the local council (Gemeinde)

The municipality decided to fell the dead tree, at a cost of 646 Swiss francs, and replace the couple’s beloved tree for an additional 1.800 Swiss francs. In theory, the case should have been closed there, but instead, another legal issue arose. 

In March 2019, the couple hired a gardener to plant a 2,4 metre high Nordmann fir tree, plus a four-metre tall columnar oak tree and a snowball musk herb plant. The pair then demanded 6.800 Swiss francs in compensation for the brand new foliage.

Swiss couple request compensation from Switzerland's highest court

In the official complaint, the couple even spoke of an amount over 30.000 francs, to cover the entire spectrum of damages, but the pair declared they would be "satisfied with the payment for the new plants."

This new appeal for damages was rejected by the administrative court, and the Oberaargau authorities rejected the complaint against the Gemeinde. The rejection ruling also stated that the complainants needed to pay the procedural costs of 1.000 Swiss francs. Unhappy with this decision, the complainants appealed to take their case to the highest court. 

The Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland made light work of the couple’s appeal though, and any dream of them being compensated was swiftly washed away. Under Swiss public law, the amount in dispute must be at least 30.000 Swiss francs to be discussed in the federal court, which is six times higher than in the current case. In the end, the couple was ordered to pay the court costs of 500 Swiss francs.

Emily Proctor

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Emily Proctor

Emily studied International Relations and Chinese, and is now undertaking Master's degree in International Security. She enjoys writing, cooking, and playing piano.

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