Thousands of individuals in the United States suffer severe injuries due to falling trees and falling branches. In many instances, the cause of these falling trees or branches are the negligence of property owners or government entities charged with the upkeep of the property the tree is on. Victims of such accidents are entitled to recovery for all damages suffered, including medical costs, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and lost income. Our law firm, Wagner Reese, represents individuals who have suffered harm in premises liability accidents across the state of Indiana. Our experienced attorneys have successfully resolved a number of fallen tree and branch lawsuits.
Who Owns the Tree?
In Indiana, the rights and responsibility for a tree’s care is vested in its owner, and ownership is determined solely by the position of the trunk, presumably at ground level. If the trunk is located entirely on Landowner A’s land — even if most of its limbs and branches extend across the boundary or its roots encroach onto Landowner B’s land – Landowner A owns the tree. For further clarification, call our experienced tree fall injury attorneys.
Who is Liable if a Tree or Branch Falls?
Liability hinges on a few different factors. Hoosier landowners have a duty to inspect trees on their properties to make sure the trees are healthy and do not pose any hazards to an adjacent landowner or to bystanders. If a tree owner notices the hazardous condition of their tree (such as rotted wood or a broken branch or limb) and does nothing to correct it, which then results in injury to another person, the owner of the land can be found liable for failing to maintain their tree.
On the other hand, landowners are not liable for “forces of nature” or “acts of god.” Some examples include earthquakes, natural disasters, heavy storms, tornadoes, and hurricanes. For instance, if a neighbor’s tree was struck by lightning and the tree fell immediately on your house, then your neighbor would likely not be liable. To learn more about what constitutes falling tree liability and if you have a potential claim, call one of our experienced lawyers at Wagner Reese.
Types of Individuals on Private Properties
Individuals who are present on properties have different statuses. They could be social guests, passersby, patrons or trespassers. Some locations should always try to protect people from falling trees and branches. When operating a public park, running an outdoor concert, or maintaining a golf course, companies should ensure the trees are inspected and verified to be safe. Trees present on the grounds should be trimmed. Trees that are in the yards of homes should also be maintained by homeowners or landlords. If they are not, the branches can easily fall onto unsuspecting victims.
How Can Tree Owners Know if a Tree is Hazardous?
Whether a tree owner can be held responsible depends on whether the landowner had “actual” or “constructive” knowledge of the danger or hazard presented by the tree.
Actual knowledge occurs when the owner was actually aware of a defect or risk posed to others. When a tree owner knows about a dangerous condition, he or she must take remedial action.
Constructive knowledge occurs when a reasonably prudent person would, or should have been aware, of the risk with the tree. For instance, an owner cannot turn a blind eye to potentially dangerous conditions on his property. He may not pay attention to the trees on his property and does not maintain his property to that extent, but a reasonable person would. Therefore, he would have constructive knowledge of the risk of harm.
Public entities that own parks and campgrounds owe duties of care to those patronizing their grounds due to heavy traffic of the public making injury or harm more foreseeable.
Falling trees and branches can cause serious injury or death due to their weight, sharpness, and size. Some common causes of falling trees are:
- Improper Maintenance
- Failure to Maintain
- Rotted Tree Trunk
- Root Rot
- High Winds
- Bad Weather
- Tree Fungus
- Prolonged Drought
- Painting Chemicals