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Georgia Falling Tree Limb $6 Million Verdict

On July 4, 2006, a family was traveling along Rte 29 when the limb from an oak tree fell on their car. Due to the fallen tree limb, the husband suffered a broken neck and permanently lost the use of his right arm. The driver lost control of the SUV after the tree limb landed on the car, which caused the SUV to hit the guard rail on the opposite side of the road.

The verdict was against the State for failing to properly maintain the roadway, as the oak tree had apparently been weakened by flooding and showed signs of rot, yet the State failed to take appropriate action to ensure the roadway was safe. $6 Million Article. While this wreck did not happen inside the City of Atlanta city limits, it is interesting to note how the City’s tree ordinance addresses potentially hazardous tree conditions.

According to the code, Hazardous tree means a tree with uncorrectable defects severe enough to pose present danger to people or buildings under normal conditions, as determined by the city arborist or city forester. Sec. 158-26 of the Code.

The City code addresses dead or diseased trees being a hazard in Sec. 158-110 as follows:

The provisions of this section shall apply to all property in the city, as follows:
(1) Generally. Any dead or diseased tree or part of a tree is a nuisance when, by reason of such condition, natural forces may, more readily than if such tree or part thereof were live or not diseased, fell or blow such tree or part thereof onto public ways or public property, off of the property of the owner of such tree, and thereby imperil life or property or impede traffic. When a dead or diseased tree which is alleged to constitute a nuisance is brought to the attention of the parks arboricultural manager or city arborist, the parks arboricultural manager or city arborist, in their discretion, may submit through the director, bureau of parks a written opinion to the director, bureau of buildings. Upon receiving a written opinion from the director, bureau of parks that any tree or part thereof is a nuisance as defined in this section, the director, bureau of buildings shall commence nuisance abatement proceedings.
(2) Notice to owner to remedy conditions; failure to comply. The director, bureau of buildings shall give written notice to the owner or the person in possession, charge or control of the

property where a tree nuisance as defined in this section exists, stating that in the city arborist’s opinion the tree or part of a tree does constitute a nuisance that shall be removed, and requesting that such removal be done within a reasonable time to be specified in such notice. In no event shall such reasonable time exceed ten working days. Such notice shall further state that unless the tree or part thereof is voluntarily removed within the time specified, the director may cause summons to be issued requiring the party notified to appear in the municipal court to have there determined whether the tree or part of a tree involved constitute a nuisance and should be abated. If the tree is not removed within the time specified by the director, the director may cause the owner of such tree, or the person in possession, charge or control thereof, to be summoned to appear before the judge of the municipal court to determine whether or not the tree or part of a tree involved constitutes a nuisance.

If the above situation applies, the owner (even if a governmental entity) is on notice of the hazard and is liable for all damages that flow from the hazard, such as falling limbs onto houses and cars or into the roadway which causes damages. If a private property owner in Georgia has prior knowledge that their tree is unsafe they will likely be liable for damages that stem from the tree throwing off limbs or falling. “Prior knowledge” can be established by a letter sent to the property owner putting them on notice or by obvious conditions that would indicate that the tree is unsafe such as falling limbs, rot or decay.

If you have been seriously injured due to a fallen tree or large tree limb and suspect the property owner had prior notice that the tree was dangerous, please contact us to discuss your case in complete confidence.