This past summer a man was struck by a 12-foot-long falling tree limb in Central Park – the dead branch broke in half over his back and neck. He is one of many people who have been injured or killed by New York City tree limbs, including a six-month-old baby who was crushed to death near the Central Park Zoo in 2010.
Falling tree limb cases, like most premises liability actions, require proof that a dangerous condition existed and that the landowner knew or should have known of the danger. The criteria for actual or constructive knowledge also apply to the City of New York, which is responsible for maintaining more than five million trees throughout the City. NYC tree limb accident cases tend to focus on whether attention to the following might have prevented the injuries and deaths:
Missing visible signs. Such as: hanging, falling and/or dead branches; the existence of cracks or hollow spaces in the tree; or signs of fungus, decay or insect infestation. Failure of park employees to recognize visible signs that an 80-foot tree was rotting cost the City four million dollars in a recent settlement with a woman who was seriously injured when one of its large limbs fell 30 feet and landed on her.
Improper pruning or removal of trees. Since tree rot tends to develop from the inside out, a tree may become unstable long before there are any visible signs of decay. Where the people hired to care for trees aren't trained and skilled arborists, it isn't unusual for them to cut off perfectly healthy limbs and miss the rotten ones.
Inadequate inspections. There is generally no duty to inspect a tree unless it exhibits visible signs of decay. In urban areas, however, where there is a risk that a tree or branch might fall on pedestrians or into the street, there is a duty of reasonable care to make sure a tree is safe and to carry out routine inspections.
Slow response time. Cases tend to focus on the City's understaffing and its inability to keep up with tree maintenance. For example, a man was recently left brain damaged by a falling branch that had been reported as dangling 20 days before the incident.
These cases are getting more difficult to litigate due to destruction of evidence and more aggressive litigation tactics by government lawyers. It is therefore crucial that anyone injured by a falling tree limb immediately retain an attorney who is experienced with these cases.