If A Tree Causes Damage, Who’s Responsible?
The recent story in Abington, MA in which 2 people were killed when a tree fell on their car has brought about the question who will pay and who is responsible for these deaths? The land that the tree was on is supposedly owned by the City of Abington, but because it is unclear, the city must take a new survey of the property lines to see if the tree actually was on city land and also provide evidence that the city had exercised their duty of care to avoid a large payout. A duty of care is the city’s legal obligation to ensure a reasonable degree of safety for people and property near their trees. As a tree owner, you also have the same duty of care for trees on your property. Simply calling a tree falling over an ‘Act of God’ doesn’t always avoid a pointed finger.
Maintaining your trees at the very minimum should include an assessment of trees that could fall onto people or property (including neighbors, public sidewalks, roadways and utility lines). In the event that one of your trees did fall and a court case ensued, you would be able to prove that you exercised your tree care duty/responsibility by having an assessment done by a Certified Arborist. Sometimes, tree removal may be your only option depending on the conditions that are discovered upon inspection and your comfort level with the fall likelihood. In other instances, there are ways to lessen the risk that it will fall by installing cables/braces, specialty pruning and/or continuing to monitor the tree on a regular basis and before storms.
There will always be a risk as long as a tree is standing, but these options help to lessen the risk level and allow you to keep a tree that you really love and wouldn’t want to remove. Large, mature trees are typically what cause people to be scared but they also provide many benefits such as providing shade and cooling, clean air, etc. and are worth keeping if practical and non-threatening.