Sacramento is known to be a City of Trees. In fact, Sacramento is a city with the most trees per capita in the world. Most Sacramento dwellers find our beautiful trees, fall foliage and spring blossoms to be aesthetically pleasing. From time to time however, our beautiful trees can become ‘dangerous’ during times of adverse weather conditions. Trees can also become ‘dangerous’ as a result of neglect in the care of a tree or due to a tree being decayed, rotted or dead. Death, injury or damage to person or property has occurred due to fallen trees or fallen tree limbs.
To determine who is at fault for the injury or damage due to the fallen tree or fallen tree limb, the location of the tree needs to be taken into consideration.
In this blog, we will discuss trees near public streets, sidewalks or ways. Some of these trees are cared for by a governmental agency and/or are located on public property. To determine who is responsible for the damages, it needs to be determined who owns the property – state, city or county. Additionally, it needs to be determined if the tree (even if located on private property) is cared for by a local municipality, the state or another government agency such as Caltrans – an agency that cares for public highway and streets.
The injured party and their lawyer will need to prove that the governmental authority had jurisdiction and control over the tree in questions and that the governmental agency had both the authority and duty to trim or remove the tree for the public safety. It will also need to be established that the governmental agency had notice or should have known the condition of the tree constituted a hazard to persons or property in its vicinity. Below are some cases that demonstrate the Courts ruling on liability in these types of cases.
In Harris v East Hills (1975) a large limb from a silver maple tree fell onto the roof of the car passing below. This rendered the driver a quadriplegic with injuries requiring medical care for the rest of his life. In this case, the court ruled that while the governmental agency did not receive actual notice of the condition of the tree in question, a simple visual inspection of the tree demonstrated tree rot so extensive that the decay (an obvious large cavity in the trunk) would have been visually evident at least four to five years prior to the accident. In this case the court ruled that the governmental agency was at fault for the injuries and damages that ensued for their not conducting a reasonable inspection of the tree.
If evidence exist that the governmental agency had in fact conducted diligent inspections and can produce evidence of such this may sway the court in the matter of liability. In the case of Lewis v State Dept of Transportation (1995) a vehicle collided with a falling tree. The collision caused the car to spin out of control eventually landing in a large pond. This caused one of the female passengers to sustain a large gash to the face requiring surgical intervention. In this case, the court ruled that the evidence indicated that the records from the highway maintenance superintendent had conducted regular inspections of the area for hazardous conditions including an inspection of the trees. While the court did not question that the tree that fell causing injury was in fact ‘dead’ the court felt that since the lower portion of the tree appeared ‘alive’ and dead limbs were obscured by the foliage created by nearby two continuous trees they ruled the State was not liable since they demonstrated they were diligent in inspecting the sight for hazardous conditions and this incident was not attributable to negligence on the state.
It should be mentioned that claims against a governmental agency, a city or state usually falls under claims that must be filed on immediately. If a claim is not filed within six months from the date of injury a person can be barred from forever pursuing compensation for the resulting injury to person or property. Since time is of the essence, contact a personal injury lawyer to assist you in this matter.
I’m Ed Smith, a Sacramento personal injury attorney, practicing for more than 30 years. If you need assistance in pursuing a claim due to injures or death from a fallen tree or tree limb, I would be happy to review your case and represent you in your claim.
I have handled many injury claims due to fallen trees and limbs and understand the complexities involved in these types of cases. Please contact me via phone (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400.
Photo Attribution: By J.smith (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons