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Who Should Be Sued When A Public Tree Falls?

In July 2017, a woman was walking through Central Park in New York City when a large tree limb broke away from a tree and fell on her. She sustained serious injuries and has every intention of suing for damages. Her intention is to sue New York City and the Central Park Conservatory for her damages, but does she have a case? Who is responsible for maintaining the trees in New York City, and is that the same department you would sue if a branch fell on you?

Uprooted tree

Who Is Responsible For NY Tree Maintenance?

In New York City, the Department of Parks and Recreation  (DPR)is responsible for the maintenance and removal of all non-private trees in the city. This means that the DPR is responsible for all trees:

  • In public parks
  • That line the streets but are not on private property
  • Trees on public property

The DPR is not responsible for trees that are on private property, nor is it responsible to remove any limbs that fall onto private property. The DPR is responsible for:

  • Removal of trees and debris blocking public sidewalks
  • Removal of branches that pose a danger to public property
  • Removal of trees that pose a danger to public property

In most cases, the city owns the trees that are planted between the sidewalk and the street. However, property owners should contact a landscape professional to determine whether or not a tree is on public property before arranging any maintenance or removal. If you do maintenance or removal on a public tree, you could be fined.

If a tree has its trunk on public property but is allowed to grow on private property, then the portion that is hanging over private property is the responsibility of the property owner. This is important to understand because many New York City homeowners incorrectly assume that any part of a public tree is the city’s responsibility.

Suing For Damages

Since tree maintenance on public property is the responsibility of a city department, a tree falling on a person on public property would mean the city could be sued for damages. However, if a tree in a public park is growing into an adjoining private yard and a branch falls on someone walking in that private yard, the city is not responsible.

Lawsuits Coming In For Falling Tress In Central Park

The branch falling accident in Central Park in July 2017 is not an isolated incident. There are over 600,000 public trees in New York City, and the DPR is having a problem keeping up with maintenance. Earlier in August 2017, a young mother with her baby strapped to her chest and two other children in tow was struck by a tree while walking in Central Park. It was a public tree and thankfully the mother and her children survived but, they had some injuries that required hospitalization. It is unclear whether or not the family will be suing for damages as a result of the tree fall accident.

Central park trees

In 2013, a New York City resident won an $11.5 million lawsuit against the city and the Central Park Conservancy after a falling tree branch damaged her spine. The Conservancy is a non-profit organization that provides around three-quarters of the funding for maintaining the trees in the park. It is an organization that works in conjunction with the city and the DPR.

Three large branches falling on public walkways in public parks over the span of four years might not sound like a lot, but the city is facing a dilemma regarding being able to maintain the remaining trees and avoiding future accidents. Anytime an individual is injured by a branch or tree falling on public property, the city is responsible.

An $11.5 million settlement for a falling branch in 2013 was obviously not enough to move the tree issue higher up the city’s list of priorities. With one new lawsuit on the way to being filed and a second possibly on the way as well, it is expected that the DPR, the Central Park Conservancy, and the City of New York will start to pay closer attention to the condition of the trees on public property.

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