When Trees Attack

An Illinois appeals court recently approved a jury verdict of more than $680,000 for a woman who was severely injured by a falling tree branch. The tree was on private property, but the branch extended over the sidewalk where the woman was standing. She was waiting for her family when the branch, which was 19 feet long and 14 inches wide, fell on her, causing severe facial injuries that required surgery.

The court pointed to the rule that urban landowners have a duty to take reasonable care to make sure trees on their property are safe. This reasonable care rule seems, well, reasonable. However, I can't help but be alarmed by the outcome in this case.

I'm not saying the woman did not deserve to be compensated for her injuries. The problem I have is that it's difficult to determine what reasonable means in any given situation. Should you have all trees on your property inspected? Should you do it every year? Every five years? Apparently, the tree branch in this case was very large. Does that make a difference?

The property was owned by Jesus People, a not-for-profit organization located on the north side. The lawsuit was brought in Cook County Circuit Court. Jesus People claimed, among other things, that it was unusually windy that day and that they had had the tree for 20 years without any clues that it was unsafe.

Was this the right outcome? It seems harsh, but I suppose someone has to be responsible for tree branches. The tree was on private property, so the city wasn't responsible. And you can't blame the poor woman who was injured. So that just leaves the property owner.


Legal Tip Of The Day from Chicago attorney Jeffrey Friedman: If you are being sexually harassed by a co-worker at work, be ready to explain how you complained about it and to whom you complained.  If you don't complain, the company may be able to defeat the case saying they never knew about it.



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  • The Jesus People should have been able to pray that the tree limb would not fall down.

  • It seems reasonable that a property owner in Chicago would be able to forsee a massive tree branch falling on a windy day regardless of how long the tree had been there for. The plaintiff is no less injured because it was a non-profit.

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