Mature trees can add great beauty to city parks. However, when trees become diseased or damaged, they can also pose a serious danger to park visitors.
While relatively uncommon, when they happen, injuries from falling trees or limbs are often catastrophic. That makes it essential that municipalities create a maintenance plan that includes regular inspection and responsive upkeep.
California family settles with city after tree falls on wedding party
A tragic 2016 incident in Whittier, California, underscores how dangerous unhealthy trees can be. As wedding guests gathered for photographs in William Penn Park, a 70-foot eucalyptus tree fell suddenly. The tree killed the bride’s mother, caused permanent brain damage to her 3-year-old niece and injured several others.
While the city initially tried to deny liability for an “act of nature,” the family eventually won a $28 million settlement.
City failed in managing tree care
In their lawsuit, the family argued that the city could have prevented death and injury if it had performed its duty to regularly inspect and address the health of park trees. A tree pathologist confirmed that overwatering had led to extensive root rot, a fact the city should have noticed and addressed years prior to the tree’s collapse.
In California, public entities have a duty to keep property reasonably safe for visitors. When it comes to city parks, a municipality may be liable for injury or death if it knew or should have known about a dangerous condition, such as a dying or diseased tree, and failed to act.