People across the country are injured or killed by falling trees or branches every year. In many of these accidents, the tree or branch fell on somebody not due to a freak accident, but because of the negligence of the person or entity who was responsible for the safety of people who visited the property. In such cases, victims or their estates might be entitled to compensation for their losses and damages. Here are two examples of tragedies that recently occurred.
The Jellystone Park Case
In July 2019, a three-year-old girl was camping with her family at a Yogi Bear Jellystone Park Campground in Elmer, New Jersey. As a storm approached early in the afternoon, the girl went inside of her family’s tent with others. It isn’t known if strong winds from the storm caused a tree branch to break off, but the branch fell on the tent and girl. The girl was transported to a local hospital where she was pronounced dead.
Only a few days before the Elmer accident, a mother was pushing her six-month-old in a stroller on a sidewalk in Chatham, New Jersey. A tree branch from above fell and crashed into both of them. Thankfully, both the mother and child survived this accident. They were taken to Morristown Medical Center.
Accidents involving falling trees and tree branches involve the owners and occupiers of land and the law of premises liability. The legal concept of premises liability includes anything from falls on stairs that are in disrepair to slip-and-falls and trip-and-falls on wet or uneven floors to falling merchandise in warehouse stores. Whether the property where the accident occurred is a private home, a retail premises or even a public sidewalk or park, the owner or occupier of the premises has a duty to maintain both the inside and the outside of the property in a reasonably safe condition.
The Duty of Care for Trees
There is a duty incumbent on owners and occupiers of real estate to periodically inspect trees on their property and determine whether the trees are healthy and don’t pose a danger to people on or near the property. If an owner or occupier of land knows of or reasonably should have known of a tree or a part of it is in a hazardous condition and does nothing about it, that owner or occupier can be held liable for damages if somebody is injured by it.
“Forces of nature” or “acts of God” are not conditions that the owner or occupier of the property will be liable for. Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, lightning or severe microbursts aren’t actionable if one or more of those causes a tree or branch to come down and injure or kill a person. Strong wind gusts generally aren’t a defense though.
Proving a Fallen Tree Branch Case
In premises liability cases, the law of negligence is used to make a determination on liability. Here is what a claimant needs to prove:
- There was a duty incumbent upon the tree owner to prevent the harm.
- There was a breach of that duty. The owner had actual or constructive knowledge of the tree being a danger to others and failed to remedy its condition.
- The breach of the duty caused the claimant to be injured.
If the claimant can prove all three of the above elements, damages can be awarded. Those damages might include the following:
- Past and future medical bills.
- Past and future lost earnings.
- Any permanent disfigurement or disability.
- Pain and suffering.
- Loss of a normal life.
- In the event of a wrongful death, funeral and burial expenses and other substantial damages as contemplated by the New Jersey Wrongful Death Act.
Contact a New Jersey Premises Liability Attorney:
Contact our offices right away to arrange for a free consultation if you or a member of your family have been injured by a falling tree or its branches anywhere in Pennsylvania or New Jersey.