6-11-12;Risk/liability is All Around Us—Risk managers need to take a look at your trees

Ouch, this one is tough to read. Claimant received more than $4.5 million dollars from injuries caused by an otherwise outwardly healthy tree that fell in high wind. What do you have to do when any tree or even a branch falls at a country club, park, golf course or your commercial property?

In Stackhouse v. Royce Realty and Management, 2012 IL App (1st) 110602, issued June 4, 2012, Plaintiff was severely injured when a large cottonwood tree on country club property, close to a cart path, collapsed and fell on her, as she was walking on a path next to golf course.

The jury provided a $4.5+ million dollar verdict for Plaintiff, finding Defendant country club and its management company equally responsible. The Appellate Court ruled Defendant should have had knowledge of dangerous condition because claimant advised an earlier tree had fallen due to a hidden condition—the otherwise outwardly normal tree was internally rotten. The tree causing injury was in the same area and Defendant therefore had a duty to investigate all surrounding trees to see if they were also rotten.

The Court ruled a reasonable person in the position of the golf course superintendent's position should have known this tree was also possibly rotten or diseased and thus posed danger of falling, and it was reasonably foreseeable that tree could fall and harm someone.

We truly consider this ruling to make liability for such tree-falling injuries global. We are sure anyone struck by a tree may now remember talking to someone on the property about other trees falling in the area.

The Courts’ members indicate they aren’t doing this and maintain the limitation that a property owner isn’t responsible for injuries due to natural conditions—we feel the fungus that felled both trees is a natural condition. Our friends who are arborists are appalled to see mega-liability arising from every falling branch without leaves on it.

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