During last week’s snow storm a visitor to Central Park was killed by a giant falling tree branch which snapped due to the weight of the snow. See New York Daily News story here. The visitor was walking along a promenade.
Occasionally, people get injured from falling trees or branches in a storm. It is more typical for property to damaged, such an automobile crushed by a fallen tree.
In order to recover for injuries or property damage, plaintiff must show the following:
- The tree was unstable. For example, a dead branch or tree would be unstable. Also, a tree which is leaning too far or has never been pruned is likely to fall. In other words, plaintiff must show that the tree was a hazard. If there is no proof of a dangerous condition, then defendant will prevail.
- The owner of the tree has a duty of reasonable care to maintain the tree. For example, the owner of the park, the City of New York, must maintain its trees in a safe condition since the park is highly populated. The City cannot let the park’s tree grow wild as would the owner of undeveloped land in a rural county. It is interesting to note that the City owns Central Park, however, maintainance may be shared between the City and the Central Park Conservancy, a non-profit group which assists the City in maintaining the park. In this case, both parties may be responsible for the tree.
- The owner of the tree had notice of the bad tree. Notice can be an actual report to the City before the accident. Actual notice can also consist of an entry on the City records noting that the tree either must be removed or pruned. The other form of notice to the City is called constructive notice. This means that the City could or should have discovered the defect if it had made reasonable inspections of its trees.
- Last plaintiff would have to show that the primary cause for the tree collapse is the poor condition or maintainance of the tree rather than the severity of the storm. Defendant will try to blame the storm’s seriousness as the cause since a violent storm will topple a good number of healthy trees.
This type of case is difficult but not impossible to prove. In a case against the City, much digging will have to made in discovery process since the City will not freely release its internal records without court intervention.
The next post will discuss cases against private property owners.
If you have been injured by a fallen tree or branch, please feel free to call us at 800-581-1434 for a free consultation, or write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark E. Seitelman, 3/1/10, www.seitelman.com.