When landscaping turns deadly: urban trees pose hidden risks

From tree-lined avenues to sprawling parks, urban forests offer residents a space to relax and recreate; unfortunately, trees that grow in an urban setting are often subject to stressors that make them more likely to fall or lose a limb, potentially causing injury or even death.

While many trees thrive in urban areas, it takes careful monitoring and maintenance on the part of public entities to ensure that city trees do not pose a risk to property or people.

What stressors affect urban trees?

Urban trees often grow in confined spaces that constrict roots, preventing good anchoring and restricting nutrient uptake. Many urban trees also survive on or near construction-altered sites with compacted, poorly drained soil or soil high in clay, gravel or sand.

Poor pruning practices and failure to routinely inspect trees for health issues can easily worsen these stressors, increasing the risk of a tree developing potentially hazardous defects.

If a city tree causes damage or injury, who is liable?

In general, the city is responsible for maintaining trees on public property, including municipal trees planted in parkway strips between the street and sidewalk. When a public tree causes damage or injury, the city may be liable.

However, the injured party must be able to show that the city knew that the tree created a dangerous condition and failed to act within a reasonable period of time.

In a recent lawsuit, the family of a California woman killed by a falling tree in a Whittier park received a $28 million settlement. During proceedings, the attorney representing the family argued that the city failed to notice obvious defects that had existed for more than 10 years before the tragic incident occurred.


Share On