The recent storm in the metropolitan area left thousands of people without energy and flooded numerous communities. Even worse, several individuals lost their lives and a significant amount of property was damaged as a result of falling trees and branches. One of the most common questions we get is – if a tree falls and damage occurs, who is responsible?
Falling branches is a fairly common occurrence that is usually hard if not impossible to predict. In general, a person cannot be liable unless they could be charged with the responsibility to prevent the occurrence. So, if a tree is otherwise healthy and a branch falls, either naturally or through an “act of Nature” the owner of the tree cannot be held liable. However, when it is reasonably foreseeable that a hazardous circumstance might develops and you’ve had a chance to deal with it, but fail to do so, that is a different story.
Say that a person notices a dead looking tree in his backyard. He calls a tree service and they inform him that the tree is dead and is in danger of falling. But, instead of chopping it down, he makes the decision to do nothing. Under New York State law, the property owner could very well be liable if he has received actual notice of a dead or decayed tree, and does nothing to remove or repair it. It simply makes sense that a property owner should be responsible if he ignores a predictable danger.
What If A Person Has A Dead Tree In His Backyard, But Didn’t Know It Was Dead?
If there is no reason for the own know that the tree posed a threat, he won’t be liable. However, if the person had recognized the tree was dead or decayed, that person could be responsible for ignoring the issue.
Recently, in Whalen v. City of New York, a New York County judge held that the City of New York could be liable for a tree falling and injuring a driver on a City-owned road surrounding a reservoir in upstate New York. Despite the fact that there was no evidence that any City personnel had actual notice of an issue because the tree was twenty feet away from the road, the Court decided that the jury could take into account whether the City should have recognized that the tree was dead and decaying. This result makes sense. A property owner should not be permitted to steer clear of all responsibility merely by ignoring issues that any reasonable individual would have noticed.
A Homeowners Is Responsible To Monitor Their Property For Potential Dangers
So, how must you proceed? As a homeowner, you need to monitor your property for potential dangers. If you have grounds to think there is a problem with one of your trees, you should take immediate action. You can secure or chop down the tree or consult a specialist. If a skilled tree expert states that a tree poses a risk, you must follow his or her advice and take care of it.
What To Do If You Are Injured By A Fallen Tree Or Branch
In the event you or your property are injured by a fallen tree or branch, the first thing you should do is take some photographs. Then you should contact an attorney who would be willing to investigate whether the accident was an act of Nature or if the tree owner should have prevented the accident.
Your attorney will likely have to consult an expert such as an arborist who can determine the tree’s condition by examining the remains of the tree or even photographs. The issue of whether a tree was decayed, diseased or dead for months as opposed to years might have a significant impact on whether the tree owner will be held responsible for the damage.
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