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Who is Liable for Falling Trees?

Tree lands on car during storm on Long Island

Not all accidents on the road are caused by drunk drivers or texting. Many accidents are caused by hazards already on the road. Cracks, potholes, and fallen trees can be just as dangerous as a negligent driver. When an accident is caused by a falling tree, who is responsible? Is it simply deemed an “act of God” and no one is at fault? What if the tree fell from someone else’s property directly on someone, or in the way of their car? Is the city ever responsible? Continue reading to learn about how liability is apportioned when an accident is caused by falling trees. Reach out to a seasoned Palmdale car accident and premises liability attorney with any questions or if you or a loved one has been hurt by a fallen tree or a negligent actor in the Antelope Valley.

Trees on Someone’s Private Property

If a landowner has a tree on their property, then they are responsible for the maintenance and care of that tree. They are also responsible for the consequences of a failure to maintain that tree. California law makes it clear that if a tree trunk is wholly on one person’s property, then it is that person’s tree. They are the owner, and they can be held responsible for what happens as a result of that tree.

If, for example, one person has a tree on their property and that tree has a branch overhanging onto a neighbor’s property, the tree owner is responsible for anything that happens as a result of that branch. If the branch breaks and falls into the neighbor’s driveway, damaging their vehicle or hurting a person in the process, then the owner of the tree may be liable for the damage and injuries caused.

If a tree trunk is split between two properties, however, then the tree might be shared and both parties are responsible. Both parties can trim, treat, or cut down the tree without the other’s consent. And if that tree falls and causes injury, both parties might be held responsible.

Whether the tree owner is liable for injury caused by the tree, however, turns on whether the tree owner was negligent. If they failed to properly maintain the tree and identify potential dangers, and the tree or a large branch was knocked down by a stiff breeze, the tree owner might be liable for any injury that results. If the tree owner did everything reasonable to maintain the tree and there were no observable dangers, but the tree was knocked down in an earthquake or tornado, then the falling tree will be considered an act of God and the tree owner will not be held responsible for resulting damage.

Falling Trees on Public Property

Different standards but similar questions apply to trees on public property. If the city owns the tree and is responsible for maintaining the tree via its parks and recreations department, then it must do so. If a tree is not properly maintained and it falls, damaging a person’s property or injuring someone, the city may be held liable. If a tree is overhanging a road (and is not located on someone’s private property), potential liability turns on who was responsible for maintaining that road. The State of California is responsible for state roads, the county is responsible for county roads, and the town or city is responsible for town roads.

Proving that the government should be liable is, however, a tougher case. The plaintiff must demonstrate that the public property that caused the injury (in this case, the tree) was in a notably “dangerous condition,” and that either a public employee acted negligently to create the dangerous condition or that the public entity had notice of the dangerous condition, had sufficient time to take corrective action, and failed to correct or warn about the dangerous condition. That is a significantly higher standard than simply proving a private tree owner was negligent.

If you or a loved one has been injured or killed by a fallen tree, a road hazard, or a negligent driver in Southern California, talk to a knowledgeable and thorough Palmdale personal injury lawyer about pursuing a claim for damages by calling the Kistler Law Firm at 661-206-6990.

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