When a large tree limb falls or an entire tree tips over, your car can suffer serious damage.
In some instances, this damage may be covered by your auto insurance policy. In others, it may be covered by the insurance policy of the property owner.
But in the event that the damage isn’t covered by insurance, who, if anyone, can be held legally at fault for damage to your ride caused by a tree?
Negligence, Premises Liability
The most likely way to recover for damage to your vehicle caused by a fallen tree or dropped limb would be a claim against the property owner for negligence. Negligence generally requires that a person who owes a duty of reasonable care to another person violates that duty, causing injury or loss.
One such duty of reasonable care is the duty of property owners or possessors to maintain their property in a reasonably safe manner. A property owner or tenant who fails to take reasonable steps to prevent other from being harmed by dangerous conditions on their property may be held liable for negligence under the legal theory of premises liability.
What Is Reasonable?
To prove premises liability in a limb or tree incident, however, it generally must be shown that the property owner failed to exercise reasonable care in maintaining his trees. Alas, this may be difficult to prove.
After all, what is reasonable care when it comes to trees? Inspecting them visually once a year? Hiring a trained arborist to come inspect them? Ultimately, you may have to prove that the owner of the property knew or should have known that the tree was liable to fall or shed limbs in a dangerous manner, and that the damage was not the recent of a so-called “act of God.”
What If It’s a City Tree?
If the tree is on property owned by the city, state or other government entity, then you will need to observe the special requirements for filing suit against the government, which typically involves first filing a claim with the government within a specific amount of time following the incident.
In addition, premises liability claims against the government may be bound by state immunity statutes that establish a lower standard of reasonably care for the government that private property owners.
If you’ve suffered injury or property loss caused by a tree or tree limb, an experienced personal injury lawyer can help explain your legal options and advise you on what to do next.