Governmental liability for injuries from falling tree limbs

The last thing you expect to hear while walking through a city, county or state park is the loud "crack" of a branch falling off a rotting tree.

But branches fall frequently and the number of people injured by falling tree branches is not trivial. In fact, in New York City alone, there were ten serious injury and wrongful death lawsuits involving falling tree limbs in the last ten years. Many of these accidents were caused by the city's failure to notice rotting trees and proactively protect its residents.

This doesn't just happen in New York - it also happens in our own backyard. For example, a 23-year-old Philadelphia woman was killed in 2009 when a falling tree branch hit her in Fairmount Park.

What can you do if you or someone you know is injured or killed by a falling tree limb or another incident in a public park? Can you bring a premises liability lawsuit against the city, county or state?

The simple answer is: Yes, if the public entity was negligent. For example, in one case, a woman was pinned to the ground by a tree limb. While she survived, she suffered serious injuries. Her personal injury attorneys were able to prove that the park workers did not notice that the elm that injured her was rotting. They sued the city and the victim received a $4 million settlement.

If you find yourself in a similar situation and believe you have a case against the city, you may be able to sue the government agency for compensation for your economic and noneconomic injuries. An experienced lawyer can help you investigate the cause of your injury by:

  • Gathering park records
  • Interviewing park workers and other relevant parties
  • Hiring experts to determine whether the city used proper procedures maintaining the property
  • Gathering medical evidence to show the extent of your injuries

That evidence can be used to prove that the city, county or state was negligent and is, thus, liable for your injuries.

Source: The New York Times, "Neglected, Rotting Trees Turn Deadly," William Glaberson, Lisa Foderaro, May 13, 2012.

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