Personal Injury Attorney: Don't Always Assume Because Tree Was On Resident's Property The Responsibility Rests With Them

GARDEN CITY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork)Tropical Storm Isaias knocked down tons of trees all over the Tri-State Area. So who is technically responsible if one fell on your property?

As CBS2’s Andrea Grymes reported Thursday, the answer might surprise you.

It was a huge job on Harvard Street in Garden City. Village workers cut an enormous tree that fell across the street, and onto John Duane’s truck and property.

“The village is doing it because it’s their tree. As far as the damage, the insurance companies will have to fight that out. I don’t know who’s going to be responsible, as long as it’s not me,” Duane said.

Unfortunately, Duane is not alone.

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Tuesday’s storm tore down tons of trees across the area, from those owned by towns, villages and cities, to trees owned by private citizens.

So who is liable if one fell onto your property?

“People are very surprised to find out, you know, you own the tree, you own the property, your tree falls on somebody else’s property. People always assume it’s your fault and it’s your liability, and that’s not the law. That’s sort of the exception to the law,” said personal injury attorney Richard Apat.

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Apat, who works for Vishnick McGovern Milizio, LLP in Lake Success, said the private tree owner may be liable if they knew the tree was decaying, or there were outward signs of decay.

“Absolutely, that would be a good liability case whether you’re talking about property damage or personal injury,” Apat said.

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When it comes to trees owned by a city or municipality, “You need to file what’s called a notice of claim, but in terms of their liability it’s generally going to be the same for trees,” Apat said, adding, “They have an affirmative obligation to do some inspections.”

In the five boroughs, Apat said only the city can maintain a tree on city property, even if it’s technically in front of your home.

If it falls, you have a much better case if you expressed prior concern about it in writing.

Apat said when dealing with neighbors, speak to them, let insurance companies deal with it, and to the extent there’s a deductible, if you can work it out among yourselves that’s the best way to go.

Brooklyn City Councilman Justin Brannan said New Yorkers are allowed to hire a private contractor to remove a city tree if it snapped in half and is laying across the street, but they will not be reimbursed.

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