Suing a city government for lack of tree maintenance at the beach may sound like the legal equivalent of suing a fast food chain for serving hot coffee. If a person encounters the risk of enjoying Mother Nature, one bears the risk of being stung by bees, getting pulled in by a strong ocean current, or even having seagulls mess up a perfect hair day. But what about having a heavy tree crush a person? Would that still be considered accepting the risk of being outdoors on public property? Perhaps hearing about a case in which a falling tree branch fractured somebody’s spine might change your mind.
In San Diego, California, a woman is seeking damages from the city after incurring a blow from a falling tree that has left her with fractured bones in her face and spine. While those involved in the woman’s legal claim acknowledge that the incident is a highly unusual event, the City previously had been asked to increase tree maintenance in open space areas. The article includes an interview with an attorney who was paralyzed resulting from a queen palm tree crushing his spine in 2010. The attorney also sued the County of San Diego and won his case based on a theory of negligence. A spokesperson for the San Diego Park & Recreation Department said of the present case, “The claim filed today will be thoroughly investigated by the City’s Risk Management Department as are all claims filed against the City.”
So what will the plaintiff need to demonstrate in order to prevail against the city? While the specific civil court rules differ between California and Texas, the general elements of negligence still apply. The initial step of assessing whether the City owes a duty to this plaintiff can be decided immediately because the injury took place on city property, i.e., the beach. The next element of proving the city breached its duty of care by negligently leaving trees in disrepair will depend on the facts presented. If the city knew or had reason to know that trees in the area required additional maintenance, (perhaps the prior lawsuit would be sufficient), then the city could be liable for the full extent of the woman’s injuries.
If you have been injured on City of Houston property, speaking to a personal injury attorney is the first step in mounting a claim for recovering damages for lost wages, pain and suffering, and medical bills.