Premises Liability: Legal Duty to Care for Trees


Under the doctrine of premises liability, landowners are responsible for the injuries suffered when a person enters the property and gets hurt due to a dangerous condition. Unfortunately, many property owners have yet to fully appreciate their legal duty to maintain their premises in a safe, hazard-free condition, including their trees.

Although trees add beauty to a property, they must be monitored and properly cared. In 1975, Pennsylvania held in Barker v. Brown that landowners have a duty to make a visual inspection of trees and could be held liable for injuries if they knew or should have known of the dangers. Recently, in March 2014, a Pennsylvania jury held a consistent holding when a woman was injured after a tree fell on her leg.

Recent Jury Holding in Tree Case

The plaintiff, Maryann Dunlap, was walking to her car when a tree located 10 feet from the parking space fell on top of her. She sustained leg fractures, cuts and bruises. She remained in the hospital for 3 months after the incident. Allegedly the tree had been dead for decades and was dropping branches for years, and the defendant knew of the tree’s dangerous conditions. The plaintiff claimed that a healthy tree would not have been affected by windy conditions, that the tree was dangerous, that a reasonable inspection would have shown the dangerous conditions and that failing to inspect the tree was below the standard of care required of property owners.

The jury found the property owner negligent, and the cause of the injuries. The plaintiff was awarded $750,000 in damages.

Pennsylvania Law on Premises Liability

The scope of premises liability in Pennsylvania is dependent on the status of the visitor, and the responsibility varies. In the case of Maryann Dunlap, she was considered an invitee because she was invited to enter the land for a purpose for which the land is held open to the public. (She was leaving a swimming club). Pennsylvania property owners must conduct reasonable inspections of the property in order to identify dangerous conditions and then must take reasonable precautions to warn or protect invitees from the danger.

Red Flags

Historically, a fallen tree was considered an act of God, and liability was not imposed. However, with the evolution of our legal system, things have changed, and liability can now be imposed. Therefore, it is vital for property owners to conduct regular visual inspections of their property and promptly deal with any red flags of trees that may impose liability, such:

1. Obviously rotted, dead or decayed limbs, trunks or roots;

2. Large holes in trunk;

3. Broken limbs;

4. Lightning damage;

5. Storm damage;

6. Insect infestation;

7. Wind damage;

8. Improper trimming or aberrant growth;

9. Trees too close to the road; and

10. Line-of-sight obstructed by vegetation.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a freak accident, contact our experienced Pennsylvania personal injury attorneys. Our team of competent legal professional will fight for your rights, and seek the best results. Contact our office for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights at 215-481-9979.

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