Falling Trees in Personal Injury: Frivolous or Fair?

by jeremyatticussmith on September 26, 2013

In the United States there is an average of 31 deaths per year from falling trees. Many of these accidents occur during thunderstorms. But not all tree falling accidents result in death. Greg Abbott, the Texas Attorney General, had a tree falling accident that resulted in paralysis from the waist down in July 1984.

He and a friend were jogging down a road to take a break from studying when a loud crack roared and knocked Abbot down, breaking his back and a few ribs. It was months of surgery and rehabilitation before Abbot could go back to a forever changed lifestyle. In the meantime Abbott filed suit against the landowner of the tree and the arborist. It was a classic premise liability case, resulting in a settlement out of court in favor of Abbot. A life changing event for Abbot and a great example of how vital personal injury lawyers are to victims of nature’s chaotic tendencies.

What would you do if you found that your car had been struck by your neighbors tree or while driving, a rotten oak tree fell on your vehicle, damaging your car and you? With the stigmas out there about frivolous lawsuits, this might seem like a prime example. How can you hold someone responsible for a falling tree?

However, people need to be taken care of when accidents happen. In January 2010, Michael Burke from San Diego had his car struck by a tree in the morning. Later that same day, after pulling out his laptop from his damaged car, he was getting into his colleague’s car and another tree fell onto him. The blow almost killed him and left his legs crippled, unusable. He sewed the city of San Diego for their negligence to maintain proper care of city trees. The city paid 7.6 million for his past and future medical expenses and noneconomic damages.

This brings into to question the fairness of someone suing over a falling tree. Could it be considered the tree’s fault? Or is the person who owns the land responsible for making sure there are no possible liabilities on his or her property? As we’ve seen from Greg Abbott and Michael Burke, the proper perspective is the latter: falling trees are the property owner’s liability.

People need a way to make it down the road to recovery. If Abbot or Burke had not had a personal injury lawyer or the option to file suit, how would their situations have been different? Could Burke take care of his 12 year old, autistic son? Would Abbot have been able to continue his political career? Would cities and land owners never have noticed the liability of rotten or unhealthy trees?

Jeremy Atticus Smith is a writer for McMinn Law Firm, a personal injury and criminal law firm in Austin, Texas.

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