Los Angeles Tree Accident Lawyer
Our firm has experience practicing personal injury law exclusively since 1982. We have the expertise you can rely on if tragedy strikes, and you or your loved one is injured as a result of a fallen tree or heavy tree branch.
In this article:
- Los Angeles and Its Beautiful Trees
- Famous Trees of Los Angeles
- Los Angeles Trees: Beautiful and Dangerous
- Trees That Populate the Los Angeles Area
- Who Owns a Tree?
- The Duty of Property Owners
- Is the Property Owner Responsible for my Injuries from a Falling Tree Limb?
- Reasons Why Trees and Tree Branches Fall
- Injuries Caused by Falling Trees or Falling Tree Branches
- Monetary Compensation for Injuries from Falling Trees or Falling Branches
- Time Limits to File a Falling Tree or Falling Tree Branch Lawsuit
- Why You Need a Los Angeles Falling Tree Personal Injury Lawyer
The Los Angeles area is brimming with all types of trees. Due to its dry, subtropical Mediterranean climate, almost any kind of tree can flourish in the region. While best known for the iconic palm trees that line its famed boulevards, there are many other varieties of trees throughout the city. Trees are heavily concentrated within the Los Angeles park system: Griffith Park, Elysian Park, Cypress Park, Penn Park, Topanga Park, Hermon Park, and Sycamore Park, to name a few.Famous Trees of Los Angeles
In keeping with the reputation of the city, certain trees located throughout the Los Angeles area have achieved a level of notoriety and fame:
This Moreton Bay Fig tree is believed to have been planted over a century ago. Located in Little Tokyo, for years, it stood at the entrance to one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Los Angeles, the Koyasan Daishi Mission. The temple was relocated in 1940, and the structure was demolished to build a parking lot. During the parking lot construction, the city paved over the fig tree's roots, yet this resilient tree survives to this day.
On top of Cahuenga Peak, a short walk from the Hollywood Sign stands a small pine tree. Legend says it started out as a store-bought living Christmas tree, which was later planted in the ground. In 2007, the tree was nearly destroyed by fire but somehow managed to survive. It has become a beacon for those who wish to meditate in its shadow, and for those seeking Instagrammable photographs. At the base of the tree is a box for its many visitors to leave messages to the universe.
This massive bay fig, which is the second-largest of its kind in the state, looms over the entrance of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel. Its legend dates back to the 1880s. It is said that a sailor who could not pay his saloon bill instead bartered with a fig tree sapling.
Just outside city limits, but within Los Angeles County stands one of the oldest trees in the San Gabriel Mountains. The Wally Waldron tree is more than 1,500 years old!
Makeup artist Adam Tenenbaum hung chandeliers over the branches of his sycamore tree in the Silver Lake neighborhood, and it caused a sensation. Currently, 30 chandeliers hang from the tree branches. The tree has appeared in music videos, and locals frequently show off the tree to visitors. Many marriage proposals have been carried out beneath this bejeweled tree.
This tree, located in East Los Angeles near Boyle Heights, is not technically a pine, but an Australian conifer. The tree became famous after it appeared in the 1993 L.A. street gang movie Blood In, Blood Out. People come from all over the world to see it.Los Angeles Trees: Beautiful and Dangerous
One word often used to describe the beauty of trees is “majestic.” Robert Frost, Henry David Thoreau, Mary Oliver, and Shel Silverstein are just a handful of poets who have created famous works dedicated to trees. Besides their natural beauty, trees provide shade and other environmental benefits. Trees can even tell stories, such as those described in the preceding section. However, without proper care and maintenance, trees can also be dangerous. Falling trees or branches can result in serious injuries or even death to an innocent passer-by or motorist. While it may seem like such an occurrence would fall under the heading of “freak accident,” experts know that most injuries or fatalities caused by trees are the consequence of improper maintenance. Often the potential for falling trees or tree branches is highly predictable and thus avoidable.
Decaying, deceased, or diseased trees are dangerous because they drop heavy limbs, but there are other ways in which trees can cause injury, such as when tree branches interfere with a driver’s visibility. Tree branches may also obscure traffic and street signs and signals, creating hazardous traffic conditions.
Each year in the United States, thousands of people suffer severe injuries as a result of falling branches and trees.Trees That Populate the Los Angeles Area
Following are some of the tree species that populate the Los Angeles region:
- Crape Myrtle
*A note about Eucalyptus: Eucalyptus trees especially can present significant hazards. Hundreds of Eucalyptus trees were planted throughout the Los Angeles area in the 1970s. This type of tree, especially when improperly inspected and maintained, poses a significant safety hazard. Eucalyptus trees are prone to limb decay and root rot, which result in their heavy branches spontaneously crashing down. Eucalyptus trees are beautiful, they smell wonderful, and their leaves have numerous therapeutic properties. Despite all their benefits, Eucalyptus trees have also resulted in many lawsuits seeking compensation for injuries and deaths. Property owners with Eucalyptus trees on their land should be particularly careful to have regular inspection and maintenance performed by certified arborists.
Below is a video discussing Eucalyptus limb failure.Who Owns a Tree?
California Civil Code Sections 833 and 834 specify the rules for establishing ownership of a tree. If the tree trunk stands entirely on the land of one property owner, that property owner owns the tree, regardless of whether its branches, foliage or roots encroach on another’s property. If the tree trunk stands partly on the land of two adjacent property owners, they are joint owners of the tree - so both would be liable for injuries or damage caused by the tree.The Duty of Property Owners
An owner of the property has a duty to inspect and maintain any trees located on that property. If one of the owner’s trees causes harm to someone, and the owner was aware or should have been aware of the hazard, they may have to pay monetary damages. There are a few ways that a property owner may be found liable (at fault) based on their prior knowledge:
- Actual Knowledge: Actual knowledge means that the property owner knew that, for example, a dead branch was hanging precariously from the tree. Any such obvious visual danger would be evidence that the owner had actual knowledge of the danger. The property owner is responsible for remedying any such obvious risk, and if he or she did nothing, there would be a liability on the part of the property owner.
- Constructive Knowledge: The term constructive knowledge means that a “reasonably prudent person” would have been aware of the risk arising from the tree’s condition. For example, if the property owner had a lot of trees and did not regularly inspect them for visible dangerous conditions but knew that the region had suffered drought conditions that weakened trees and still did nothing to inspect, maintain or remedy the potential weakened tree conditions, the owner could be found to have constructive knowledge of the risk.
The question of whether the property owner should have been able to foresee the potential dangers can be a tricky one. That is why it is important to retain an attorney with tree injury experience. If the property in question is large, remote, and heavily wooded, it may be believable for a property owner to claim he or she did not have actual or constructive knowledge of the hazard. However, on a smaller residential lot, the condition of the tree or trees is visible daily. It would be much more difficult for the property owner to deny knowledge of the defect and escape his or her duty to inspect and maintain the tree(s).Is the Property Owner Responsible for My Injuries from a Falling Tree Limb?
Without proper care and maintenance, serious injuries from trees and tree branches can occur. In that case, the injured party will need to determine who is at fault for his or her injuries. To establish fault (liability) in a personal injury matter, there must be evidence to prove negligence on the part of the property owner. To prove negligence, one must prove:
- The property/tree owner had a duty to prevent harm.
- The duty to prevent harm was breached by the property/tree owner.
- The breach of that duty resulted in injury.
As previously discussed, liability is determined after considering whether the landowner fulfilled his or her duty to inspect trees to ensure that they are healthy and do not present a danger to adjoining landowners or bystanders who may walk by. If the hazardous condition is known or should have been known by a reasonably prudent person, and the owner did nothing to fix it, the dangerous condition caused the injury, then the owner would be found to be negligent in his or her duty to maintain the tree. Under those circumstances, the property/tree owner would be responsible for injuries caused by the tree.
There is an exception for landowner liability when the injury occurs due to “acts of God” or “forces of nature.” For instance, if an earthquake causes a tree or tree limb to fall on a passerby, the property owner would not be found to be responsible. Similarly, if a tree was struck by lightning and a limb fell on your car, damaging it, the tree’s owner would likely not be found liable for the repairs. This exception is because there was no negligence on the part of the property owner that caused the incident and resulting damage or injury.
Be aware though-heavy storms bringing rain and wind during winter are foreseeable, and just because there were natural elements that may have contributed to a falling tree or branch does not mean that there was not also owner negligence. A property owner who neglects his or her duty to secure (or cut down) a dangling tree limb may still be found at fault if that limb breaks off and injures someone during a winter storm. The insurance company for the property owner in this scenario would undoubtedly try to claim the "Act of God" exception so that it would not have to pay the claim. This example is yet another reason why it is essential to retain an experienced tree injury attorney to combat such arguments.Reasons Why Trees and Tree Branches Fall
The following are some common causes for a tree or tree branch to fall:
- Failure to Maintain the Tree
- Improper Maintenance of the Tree
- Rotting Roots
- Rotting Tree Trunk
- Storms / High Winds / Other Bad Weather
- Tree Disease or Fungus
- Drought Conditions
- Property Owners: Is Your Tree Dangerous?
If you own property and have a tree or several trees on your land, it is prudent to have the trees regularly inspected by an arborist who is licensed by the State of California. These trained professionals are certified in the science of inspecting and maintaining trees, as well as proper tree care. They are trained to recognize diseases that may be affecting the trees. They are also trained to safely remove hazardous limbs and perform adequate pruning techniques. These tasks can be dangerous if undertaken by someone not trained and equipped in tree maintenance.
Proper tree care and maintenance is a monetary investment, but one that can protect your financial assets. Caring for the trees on your property not only offers protection from falling trees and branches, but it also enhances the beauty and resale value of the property. Improperly cared for and maintained trees, on the other hand, can turn into an enormous liability if the tree damages property or injures a person.
After heavy winds and rain, or following a period of extended drought, it is especially important to have the trees on your property inspected and serviced. Any unsafe branches and limbs should be cut down. A certified arborist will also have knowledge if the tree(s) on your property are protected species. There are specific governmental requirements concerning trimming protected trees in California.Injuries Caused by Falling Trees or Falling Tree Branches
A falling tree or falling tree branch can cause severe, disabling injuries and death. Common injury types from this type of incident include:
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Fractured skull
- Neck Injuries
- Back Injuries
- Fractured ribs
- Broken clavicle
- Other broken Bones
- Internal Injuries
Of course, it is possible to sustain less catastrophic injuries from a falling tree or tree branch, depending on the weight of the falling object and where the victim is struck. However, the reality is that the risk of death is high when an object as heavy as a tree or large tree branch strikes a human. The victim of a falling tree limb or tree is often hit in the head, which can cause death or permanent brain damage. The aftereffects of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) can often cause a severely diminished quality of life. The symptoms that follow a TBI are numerous and often so severe that not only does the victim suffer, but the victim’s extended family suffers as well.Monetary Compensation for Injuries from Falling Trees or Falling Branches
People that suffer injuries from falling trees and/or tree branches are entitled to monetary recovery for the damages they incur as a result of their injuries. Those monetary damages can be significant. They include medical expenses - past and future, loss of income and loss of earning capacity, pain, and suffering, and emotional distress. Our experienced attorneys have represented clients injured in falling tree and falling tree branch cases throughout the Los Angeles region. We take enormous pride in each case that we handle.
The categories of monetary damages available to those who have suffered injuries from falling trees or tree branches are:
- Economic Damages: This category of damages includes medical bills (past and future), wage loss and loss of earning capacity, property damage, and out of pocket expenses.
- General or Noneconomic Damages: This category of damages provides compensation for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life
- Loss of Consortium: if the injured party is married, their spouse may suffer from a loss of companionship and may also have had to take on the injured spouse’s household duties. As such, the spouse of the injured party is also entitled to a monetary recovery to compensate for those losses.
The statute of limitations for personal injury claims in California is two (2) years. This is the period in which an injured person must settle his or her claim or have a lawsuit on file with the court to preserve the claim. If you or anyone you love has been severely injured by a falling tree or tree branch, it is recommended you quickly find an experienced attorney to assist you with your claim for damages.
- Government Claims Statute: If the falling tree or tree branch occurred on public property, the time limit to act is shorter than two years and is often only a matter of months. When an injury occurs on public property, it is even more crucial for the injured party to contact an experienced Los Angeles tree injury attorney as soon as possible.
- Injury to Minors: If the falling tree or falling tree branch resulted in injury to a person under the age of 18, the statute of limitations would remain open for longer than two years. For minors that have sustained personal injuries in California, the law stays open until two (2) years after the minor turns 18.
My firm has successfully handled numerous injury claims resulting from falling trees and falling tree branches. I understand the many complexities involved in tree injury cases. Property owners that neglect the condition of their trees need to be held liable for any injuries that result from the neglected trees. My firm can assist you whether you were injured on private or public land. Please be aware that if the tree that caused your injury was on public property or under the control of a government entity, you only have 180 days (six months) from the date that you were injured to file a claim. Because there are so many variables and unique aspects to tree injury cases, it is crucial that you call an attorney shortly after your accident to protect your rights and ability to receive fair compensation.Los Angeles Tree Accident Lawyer
I'm Ed Smith, a tree accident lawyer in Los Angeles. If you or a loved one has been injured by a fallen tree or tree branch, please call me at (213) 992-4300 or (800) 404-5400 for free and friendly advice. I have the experience of dealing with difficult insurance companies since 1982. If the case must go to trial, we will vigorously work on your behalf and expertly present your case to a jury.
Photo: Jordan Madrid on Unsplash
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Editor’s Note: This page has been updated for accuracy and relevancy [cha 5.12.20]