Tree Injuries Up as City Budgets Go Down

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By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on May 16, 2012 9:50 AM

If your city is being forced to make cutbacks, it may be choosing to cut back on your safety. And as evidenced by the number of tree fall injuries in recent years, New York City, it seems, is doing just that.

In the last 10 years, there have been 10 lawsuits in New York City stemming from fallen trees. A detailed look at the city's budget shows a decrease in the number of man hours spent inspecting, repairing and pruning city trees.

This situation isn't unique to the Big Apple. There have been other recent tree fall injuries in Florida and Oregon.

When these injuries occur, residents and city attorneys must try to decipher who, exactly, is responsible for trees on public property. Is it the city? And if so, to what extent?

Responsibility is ultimately determined by local laws, but there are some general rules that apply to tree fall injuries. The first of these is that no one is responsible for injuries cause by "Acts of God."

An Act of God occurs when no human intervention could have prevented the tree from falling. This means that the tree showed no sign of root rot or disease and was properly trimmed. It just randomly decided to fall, whether or not with the help of a storm or strong winds. There is no negligence to be found.

And the second rule is that, if there is negligence on the city's part, there is probably some liability. Cities have at least a minimal duty to maintain public property, including trees. While they aren't obligated to inspect the trees on a weekly basis, they are arguably required to inspect and prune at least once a year.

Which is where you come in. Though it's doubtful you have a legal duty to do so, it would be a good idea to inform the city if you think a tree is unsafe. Be a good neighbor and help your city prevent tree fall injuries.

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