People are seriously injured or killed by falling trees more often than you may think. There are actually more trees in the United States now than there were 100 years ago. On average, there are over 100 fatalities caused by trees falling on people or vehicles each year – and many more suffer serious injury. Sometimes tree accident lead to litigation. If you or a family member were hurt by a falling you tree, you may be wondering if you can sue the property owner for damages?
To win a premises liability case involving a fallen tree, you will need to prove that the landowner breached the duty of care owed to you, and that the injuries caused to you were a foreseeable and likely result. When dealing with liability from falling or fallen trees, proving liability is often not easy task. In the event you were injured as a motorist by a fallen tree, you should consult with an experienced car accident lawyer immediately. For a free legal consultation, call attorney Brent Wieand directly at 1(800) 481-5206.
Is a Property Owner Responsible if a Tree Falls and Injures Someone?
Whether you can file a lawsuit following an injury caused by a falling or fallen tree will depend on the specific circumstances of your case. In Pennsylvania, landowners and occupiers owe a duty of care to others with regards to the condition of their land. However, the extent of the duty owed to others depends on a variety of factors such as the guest status of the visitor and foreseeability of danger.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the duty of care owed to a trespasser is less than the duty owed to licensees (a person permitted on use the property) or business invitees (a person invited onto the property for business dealings.) In addition, other factors such as whether the tree was completely natural (as opposed to a landscaped property), whether its located on an urban or rural property, and the proximity of the tree to a busy highway will be weighed in determining the liability of a landowner.
What if a Tree Causes a Car Accident?
With regards to the duty of care owed to motorists, Pennsylvania landowners have long been held to owe a duty of care for the condition of trees on their property. For example, in Brown v. Baker the court opined that “the relatively minor expenditures in time and money that it will take to inspect and secure trees in a developed or residential area is not large when compared with the increased danger and potential for damages represented by the fall of such a tree.” Barker v. Brown, 236 Pa. Super. 75, 80-81, 340 A.2d 566 (1975)
However, the law has also evolved to create a duty owed by rural landowners with regards to trees that are located next to busy highways. In recent years, whether a property is rural or urban is given less weight than its proximity to roadways that accommodate very high volumes of traffic. For instance, in Wynkoop v. Luke, the Court found landowners, even in non-urban areas, are subject to liability to motorists due to the condition of trees on the land near a public highway if they fail to exercise reasonable care to prevent an unreasonable risk of harm. Wynkoop v. Luke, 67 Pa. D. & C.4th 536 (Pa. County Ct. 2004).
As in all negligence cases, the amount of care required by the law must be in keeping with the degree of danger involved.
What if the Negligent Party is the Government?
Pennsylvania local government agencies are protected by many negligent acts through governmental immunity. However, there are exceptions to governmental immunity for which a local agency may be held accountable. One exception to governmental immunity pertains to the dangerous condition of trees. If a tree is in the custody or control of a local government agency, it may be held liable if:
- a dangerous condition of the tree created a reasonably foreseeable risk of the kind of injury which was incurred;
- and that the local agency had actual notice or could reasonably be charged with notice under the circumstances of the dangerous condition at a sufficient time prior to the event to have taken measures to protect against the dangerous condition.
See Section 8542(b)(4).
Similarly, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is protected from lawsuits by sovereign immunity, codified in statute 42 Pa.C.S. § 8522. However, sovereign immunity also allows for liability under certain circumstances, such as:
- The care, custody or control of personal property in the possession or control of Commonwealth parties; and
- Dangerous conditions of Commonwealth agency real estate including highways.
These exceptions may give rise to liability from a fallen tree depending on the facts of the case. It should be noted that both governmental and sovereign immunity have strict notice requirements. For this reason, it is important to speak with an experienced premises liability lawyer who can take action to protect your legal rights as soon as possible following an accident. To speak with attorney Brent Wieand, call 1(800) 481-5206 for a free consultation.
*Disclaimer: This article does not constitute legal advice. Always contact an experienced attorney if you have legal questions. Brent Wieand is an personal injury attorney in Philadelphia who is proud to represent clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey.