State and local governments have a responsibility to provide safe, relatively well maintained roads for travel. Although these agencies do not act as insurers of a perfect roadway, they do have a duty to exercise reasonable care to make roads reasonably safe.
If the state or local agency is aware or on notice of a problem in the roadway, and they unreasonably fail to take action to fix the problem after a reasonable time period , they may be liable for damages a motorist suffers as a result.
Trees in the Right of Way
If a motorist strikes a tree and is injured, the government entity may be responsible if the original plans for the road called for removal of trees within a certain distance of the road.
In addition to looking at the original plans, an attorney should find out of there have been frequent crashes in the area with the tree. Most states have databases, that indicate how many crashes occur in any given area or intersection. If research shows that there have been many other collisions with the same tree or strand of trees, the entity may be on have constructive notice that there was a problem there. A failure to act to rectify the problem may allow a jury to come to a verdict against that government entity.
Shrubbery and Fallen Tree branches
In cases where tree branches fall and cause an injury to a pedestrian or motorist, the government maintaining the road can also be responsible if they failed to properly inspect trees for rot or other disease or if they failed to perform proper maintenance. If the government knows of a problem, but can not fix it immediately, many court decisions impose a duty to at least put up warning signs.
Additionally, if they can be responsible if they had actual notice that there was a problem and did not fix it in a reasonable time period. . An Arborist is an expert who can typically be very helpful in establishing the time a tree became dangerous as well as the type of trimming normally required on different varieties of tree.
Shrubbery obstructing the view of motorists before entering an intersection is often, similarly, a cause of a verdict against the entity who had a responsibility for inspecting the area and trimming away any dangerous obstructive shrubbery.
Cases involving a public entity’s failure to properly construct or maintain areas with trees or shrubbery are difficult cases with many traps for the unwary. For an excellent presentation by a firm that defends public entities, but nevertheless has a nice summary of California law in this area, see the slideshow here.
If you have a case of an accident where you believe a failure to maintain trees or shrubbery is an issue, feel free to call me. I’m Ed Smith, a Sacramento Roadway defect lawyer. My Sacramento phone number is 916-921-6400 or from elsewhere in the state, 800-404-5400.