In 2007, a huge limb from an elm tree fell on a woman as she sat on a bench in Stuyvesant Square Park. In 2009, a Google engineer suffered life-altering personal injury in when he was crushed by a fallen limb. Later that year, a restaurant worker died when a tree limb fell on him. These are just a few of the many tree-related accidents that The New York Times uncovered in a recent series of investigative articles.
The city was sued in each of these incidents. In most cases, it tries to settle quietly, hoping to avoid drawing attention to what is becoming an increasingly pressing problem. The case arising from the 2007 incident was settled earlier this year for $4 million.
In recent years, budget cuts have meant that the city is spending less time and money inspecting dangerous trees. Even before the cuts, the city did not employ a staff of experienced arborists. Instead, inexperienced crews looked at trees from the ground, checking to see if any branches were dead. If the crew found dead branches, they notified their superiors, but investigators found that remedies were often delayed in an attempt to save money.
The city denies blame. Its lawyers have called the incidents “tragic accidents;” they argue that the city does not have a duty to conduct inspections to determine whether certain trees are likely collapse and injure bystanders.
New York City has about 2.5 million trees in public parks and roadways. The parks department maintains about 70,000 of them each year. While trees used to be pruned at least once every seven years, budget cuts have pushed that back to once every 15 years.
All landowners — including the city — have a duty to maintain their trees in reasonably safe condition. If you are injured by a dangerous tree on public or private property, you may have the right to recover damages for your injuries.