Falling Tree Limb Leads to Stuyvesant Square Park Lawsuit

by tylercook on May 21, 2012

In July 2007, 29-year-old Alexis Handwerker was sitting on a bench under a tree in Stuyvesant Square Park in New York City when a huge limb from the giant elm suddenly fell and pinned her to the ground. She survived the incident but was badly injured.

She sued the city for negligence, claiming that parks workers had failed to observe that the tree was rotting, despite the fact that the 80-foot tree had dropped limbs in the past. She suffered broken bones and required six staples in her head.

Falling Limbs Lead to Lawsuits

When a judge declined to dismiss the case, New York City settled Handwerker’s lawsuit for $4 million. The city has already paid millions of dollars in settlements related to falling tree limbs. These lawsuits have come at a time when the city is facing deep cuts in their budget dedicated to tree maintenance.

There are at least 10 other lawsuits against the city for falling tree branches that have caused significant injury or death. These suits raise the issue of whether more diligent tree care by the city’s parks department might have prevented injuries.

Unclear Level of Diligence Required by City

The legal issues revolve around the central question of how much responsibility the city has to protect its citizens and visitors from falling limbs. Experts suggest that the science of tree care has improved risk management strategies for trees in high traffic areas, including playgrounds and walkways. The plaintiffs’ lawyers argue that New York has not kept up with the available technology. The lawsuits also uncovered instances of poor communication and delayed responses to concerns about tree health.

Lawyers representing New York City argue that the city does not have the responsibility to protect citizens from tragic accidents caused by falling trees. They deny that the city should be required to use the latest technology to regularly inspect trees for signs of rotting or disease.

Evidence Suggests Injuries Were Preventable

In the past five years, 49 people were injured and two were killed by falling tree branches in the city. Although the number of victims is relatively small, the evidence brought up in the lawsuits suggests that these accidents could have been prevented.

While the city has tree care systems in place, these lawsuits have identified significant problems within these systems. In Handwerker’s case, the city’s workers did not notice that the tree had rotted to such an extent that its trunk was “gooey.” These lawsuits have also demonstrated that the parks department has not made use of available technology designed to manage the risks posed by aging trees.

Several of the lawsuits involved falling tree branches from trees that had already been slated for removal. Parks department employees have provided several reasons for the delays. In at least one case, the department was required to attend to other emergencies and had to delay tree removals. In another case, an employee stated that the delay was a money-saving measure. The city could contract to have trees removed at a cheaper rate if they hired a contractor to remove several trees at one time.

Although the city has fought to have these lawsuits dismissed, their attempts have not been successful. If the city does not change the way it addresses dangerous trees, there are sure to be many more tree-related lawsuits in the future.

About the Author

Tyler Cook is a freelance writer who follows US tort activities. His experience has confirmed his view that life is risky and that individuals should consider review insurance quotes online to find policies to help defend against the financial risks.




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