Last week in Bryant Park, a 25-foot tall London Plane tree suddenly snapped in half, narrowly missing a children’s play area as it crashed down. The fallen tree, which was later found to be rotten inside, left five people with serious injuries as it toppled over in the busy Midtown Park.
A certified arborist found evidence of rampant fungal infection in the fallen London Plane, which has spread to at least six other massive trees in this popular recreational area.
25-foot tree falls in Manhattan park
“The crack is what prevented people from dying,” Tanny Nuñez told the New York Times. Nuñez was operating the adjacent children’s carousel and noted that the outcome would have been much more catastrophic had the tree fallen on Saturday, when throngs of New York families flock to the park.
One of the five injured victims suffered a compound fracture when part of the trunk crushed her arm. Another person was pinned beneath the tree, relying on bystanders to rescue him. Others suffered broken bones, back and neck injuries, lacerations and bruises. All victims were hospitalized, but fortunately none of the injuries were life-threatening in nature.
Fallen tree lawsuits in New York City
Falling tree limbs have injured and caused death before in New York City, which has been hit with a number of personal injury lawsuits regarding the matter. These complaints have shed light on the aggressive way in which the city responds to such injury claims, employing legal strategies that in some way mirror those of giant pharmaceutical companies.
In one fallen tree lawsuit brought by the family of an elderly Brooklyn woman who was killed by falling branches at a bus stop, the city attempted to cap damages on the basis that she didn’t suffer before her untimely death. A jury flatly rejected this contention and handed down a $2.95 million verdict, which was later reduced to $1.6 million by an appeals court.
Fallen tree responsibility in NY – who is liable?
“Most people don’t realize there may be a party liable for a tree fall, whether it involves property damage or personal injury,” states Lawrence Krasin, managing partner at Edelman Krasin & Jaye. “It is a common misconception that when a tree falls and kills or seriously injures somebody it’s ‘nobody’s fault’ or ‘an act of God’. The real truth is that municipalities and home owners have an absolute duty and responsibility to remove diseased and dying trees. The owner must routinely prune and care for the tree or it will deteriorate. And most importantly, reasonable care requires routine inspection for outward signs of distress; such as failure to thrive, dying limbs, insect infestation, fungus or water sprouts.”
“Simply put,” Krasin concludes, “failure to act when the tree is in distress is, by definition, negligence.”
$4 million award for NYC fallen tree branch victim
The firm’s senior trial attorney Sal A. Spano recalls, “We had a similar case in which the City of New York routinely ignored major limb failure on a centuries old tree, in a well-known and popular Manhattan park. Despite obvious outward evidence of distress and prior limb failure, the City failed to address the problem. Shockingly the City actually put up benches around the tree inviting park goers to sit under its large branches. Tragically, on a July morning in 2007 an oversized dying branch near the top of the tree gave way, falling and hitting a young lady sitting on the bench with her dog. She suffered numerous broken bones and underwent several surgeries with years of rehabilitation. We were able to recover damages of $4,000,000 for the victim to get her life back on track.”
NYC lawyers on this case presented several arguments which they later abandoned about the plaintiff, Ms. Handwerker, claiming she failed to use “reasonable safety devices” when sitting on the park bench. At one point they purportedly promised to have the tree preserved, so that an arborist could examine it for rot. But, just two days after the accident, the entire tree was cut down and thrown out. This act left open the possibility that Mr. Spano could argue “spoliation of evidence” before jurors. But just before trial was slated to begin, the city settled.
“Maybe their intentions were in the right place at the beginning,” Mr. Spano told the New York Times. “But all of a sudden it becomes, ‘How are we going to get ourselves out of this situation?’”
New York fallen tree law explained
If you or a loved one has suffered injury from a fallen tree in NYC or the surrounding metro area, the attorneys at Edelman, Krasin & Jaye are uniquely qualified to help you seek compensation for medical bills, emotional trauma, lost wages and other damages. We can explain how New York fallen tree laws pertain to your case, and advise you as to the pros and cons on pursuing litigation. Schedule your free case evaluation today by calling (800) 469-7429.