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Liability for Tree Falling on a Car

I’m Katelyn Holub, an attorney focusing on personal injury law in northwest Indiana.

Welcome to Personal Injury Primer, where we break down the law into simple terms, provide legal tips, and discuss personal injury law topics.

Today’s question comes from a caller who was a passenger in a friend’s car when a tree fell on the car while the vehicle was parked at another friend’s home. She wanted to know if the property owner could be held responsible for her spinal injuries when the tree crushed the car’s roof.

The answer is most likely YES. A property owner may be legally liable if they let a dead tree or dead branch present a risk to others and fail to take steps to remove the tree or branch.

In residential areas, it’s not an undue burden for a landowner to inspect his property and take reasonable precautions against dangerous natural conditions.

Put another way: a landowner does have a duty to protect neighbors from the risk of damage or injury caused by a falling tree.

So, if you have a dead or decaying tree on your property. Don’t ignore it.

The law says you owe a duty of care to remove decaying or dead trees on your land to protect people traveling on a public roadway where they might get hit by a falling tree or branch.

The duty extends to all possessors of land, not just owners. So, suppose you hold a lease on a property with trees. You may have to answer in court if the condition of the trees creates an unreasonable risk of harm to those operating on a highway near the property.

Here is an example of a landowner being held responsible for damage caused by a falling tree.

A motorist was injured by a falling tree within a county-owned 30-foot right-of-way along a street. The tree was 50 ft tall, leaned sharply over the road, and was visibly damaged and decayed. Even a casual observer of the tree could see that it presented a hazardous condition. The tree fell on a nice day where weather was not an issue. There was no storm or high winds involved in the tree coming down. – Under similar facts the possessor of such a tree would likely be held legally liable.

If you have a healthy tree on your property, and a storm blows the tree down into the roadway and causes injury, you likely will not be held liable. Why? Because the tree did not present a hazard. And, because the wind was beyond your control.

But, if the tree was dead and known to be vulnerable to wind damage, you might be liable, even if a storm took the tree down.

Especially so if the surrounding healthy trees suffered no storm damage.

I hope you found this information helpful. If you are a victim of someone’s carelessness, substandard medical care, a product defect, work injury, or another personal injury, please call (219) 736-9700 with your questions. You can also learn more about us by visiting our website at DavidHolubLaw.com – while there, make sure you request a copy of our book “Fighting for Truth.”