Your car can suffer serious damage at the hands of tree limbs and tree trunks. When a large branch falls on to your car or the entire tree tips over, you could wind up being on the hook for thousands of dollars in repairs.
Sometimes this sort of damage is covered by your auto insurance policy, and in certain cases it may be covered by the insurance policy of the property owner. However, if this incident is not covered by insurance, it’s incredibly important to determine who was legally at fault.
Accidents like falling branches and falling trees often deal with the concept of “premises liability.” This means that the owner of a property is liable for injuries sustained on the property due to dangerous conditions, lack of maintenance, and certain other factors. Premises liability encompasses a wide variety of situations, including everything from faulty stairs to a wet floor that causes someone to slip and fall, and it can apply to residences, commercial buildings, and public property alike. Essentially, whether it’s a private home or a national retail store, property owners have a reasonable responsibility to look out for the safety of their building’s occupants.
In order to prove premises liability, you must prove that the property owner failed to keep their property safe for others, as well as negligence. In other words, you must prove that the property owner failed to take the reasonable care in maintaining their property, which led to an injury—which, in this case, could be purely financial. For example, say you were parked on the street where a tree—which clearly has not been trimmed for a long while—hangs over a wooden fence into the street. It’s clear that the property owner has not taken steps to maintain the tree and keep it safe for people parking on the street. If the tree falls on your parked car, causing significant damage, you could have grounds for a personal injury lawsuit.
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It is also important to note that there are special rules if the tree was a “city tree.” Depending on the state, city, or municipality, there could be certain immunity statutes in place that protect the government entity from premises liability claims. If the tree is located on property owned by the city, state, or other government entity and you are able to file suit, you must file a formal notice of your claim within 30 days of the incident. After this 30-day window, you must wait 6 months to file a formal lawsuit. During this time, a representative from the city, state, or municipality involved will most likely contact you to try and resolve your claim.
At the end of the day, there is no hard and fast rule for determining fault. The best way to determine fault after a tree falls on your vehicle is to contact an experienced personal injury law firm.