There are a remarkable number of injury claims stemming from falling trees and branches. Sometimes the trees are owned by friends or family.
Sometimes the trees hit the injured person. Sometimes they create obstructions or set chain reactions in motion.
We’ve represented and recovered money for people who have been injured in a variety of circumstances. One case in particular stands out.
We represented a young girl who was a passenger in a friend’s car. The friend drifted off the road. Unfortunately the top rail of a chain link fence had been dislodged by a falling branch.
The car struck the rail. The rail penetrated the windshield and struck our client.
We recovered against the owner of the property from which the tree fell, the driver of the car and the City who was responsible for maintaining the fence.
Homeowners insurance will cover claims for falling trees and branches. But in order to recover you have to show the owner of the tree was negligent.
Here’s an overview of the law in Washington:
A property owner in a developed area owes a duty of reasonable care for defective trees adjacent to the roadway when there is actual or constructive notice. Actual notice means the property owner knew the tree was defective. Constructive notice means the property owner should have known the tree was defective.
Actual or constructive notice of a defective tree and the hazard it poses to neighboring property creates a duty to inspect and remove the tree.
A property owner cannot avoid liability by ignoring a dangerous tree because it is in a “natural condition”.
The best way to prove constructive notice is to hire a certified arborist to inspect photos of the tree and also to conduct a visual inspection of the stump or broken branch. The arborist will be able to determined whether the property owner should have been able to tell there was a problem.