Family Loses Wrongful Death Suit Over Tree Fall Accident
If a tree falls and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound? No one knows, but if the tree remains in the street where it is struck by an oncoming motorist, who is liable for their injuries? According to a jury, they are.
A wrongful death lawsuit had been filed against a contractor working for a utility company that was in the area when the tree fell. The plaintiffs claimed the utility company was responsible for the tree and should have removed it.
The article is light on the details concerning the case, but we can guess what happened. There are several reasons why the company may not have been found liable for the tree incident. Below, we’ll take a look at those.
No proof of causality
In order for the company to be responsible for the tree, they must have been proven to have caused the tree to fall. Otherwise, they are not responsible for the tree other than to report that it is in the road. They could have removed the tree, but they didn’t, and the plaintiffs could not establish that they had a duty of care to remove a tree that they didn’t cause to fall. In that case, the plaintiff could not establish the defendant’s negligence, which is why they lost the case.
To establish negligence, you must prove that a company either did something they should not have done or didn’t do something they had a duty to do.
In Florida, we operate on a pure comparative negligence system which means a plaintiff that is 99% responsible for their injuries can still pursue the recovery of 1% of their total damages. In other states, there are limits to contributory negligence such as 50%, 51%, and sometimes even as low as 1%. If the plaintiff contributed too much negligence, then the claim would have been defeated unless it was filed in a comparative negligence state like Florida.
Essentially, this case failed because the allegations against the company were not strong enough. The plaintiff hit a tree in the road. Okay, well, why didn’t he see it? Was he distracted? Was he drunk? Was he tired? Did the company cause the tree to fall? Was the company required by law to remove the tree? What is the proper procedure when a company causes a tree to fall? What duties does a company have when a tree falls near where they’re working?
These are all tricky questions with many possible answers. Courts like specific allegations tied to defendant’s conduct showing negligence. In this case, the plaintiffs failed to establish the defendant was either negligent or responsible for the fallen tree.
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