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The Hazards of Falling Trees: Is an Illinois City Liable for Negligence After Inspecting Trees?

Illinois premises liability attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLCIllinois Cyclist Paralyzed by 40-Foot Limb

A recent Illinois case shed light on what can happen when a city fails to take action in dealing with damaged trees. This past March, the City Council Committee for Lincoln Park approved a settlement of $5.75 million for a cyclist permanently disabled as the result of being hit by a 40-foot tree limb. Over 10 months prior to the incident, numerous city residents had filed complaints about dead branches falling from the tree that struck the cyclist.

The city conducted an inspection, but apparently did not remove the tree.The city’s attorney argued that the rot of the tree was located at the tree’s top and unable to be seen. Even though an inspector was hired by taxpayer dollars to inspect the tree, no plans to remove the tree were made. After the inspection, numerous citizens continued to file complaints about dead branches that were not removed from the tree and causing issues. One dead branch even struck the windshield of a car and completely shattered it. Ultimately, the city decided that it would be better to settle the case for $5.75 than risk going to trial and facing a jury verdict award that could be in excess of this award.This Illinois case is a great example of what happens when a city fails to fulfill it’s duty of care to maintain safe roadways and sidewalk areas for residents. Despite the fact that the city has conducted an inspection of the tree, it failed to remove the tree. Even if the inspector believed the tree did not need to be removed, city officials continued to receive numerous complaints citing the danger of dead tree branches from residents. Because the city was aware of the continuing threat and danger of the tree, it had a duty to remove the dead branches or completely remove the tree.

City Settles for $5.75 Million in Compensation

The $5.75 million award may seem excessive at a first glance, but one should be aware of the severe injuries that the cyclist suffered as a result of the city’s failure to act. The cyclist is now permanently disabled and must use a wheelchair to move around. He will never be able to walk again. The cyclist also suffers from a loss of consortium, in that he is no longer to work outdoors. He has no control over bodily functions and will never have a sex life again. These are factors that are considered in determining damages for a loss of consortium award in Illinois. The cyclist even suffered from a break-up with his girlfriend after the accident.

The award also likely takes into consideration the significant medical expenses that this cyclist will face for the rest of his life. He will need to pay for care related to his disability. He likely suffers from lost wages and will never be able to work again. These factors may explain why the city settled for $5.75 million.

Trees and Legal Issues of Premises Liability

Every landowner should be aware that he or she has a duty to clean up branches and areas open to the public. Sidewalks are considered public property and may be accessed by individuals. As such, landowners need to remove any branches that could fall on joggers, runners, cyclists or others walking in this area.

In Illinois, the Court of Claims Act and State Lawsuit Immunity Act may protect the state from liability in actions involving premises liability claims. However, immunity may not apply when a government official acts with “willful and wanton misconduct.” In the case of the cyclist, it appears that the city showed an utter indifference and conscious disregard for the safety of citizens in failing to remove the tree. Because immunity would probably not have applied to the city in this case, that is likely the reason why the city decided to settle the case.

Call Illinois Premises Liability Attorneys for Additional Help with Your Case

If you have been injured by a falling tree limb or overgrown roots, you may have a legal claim. Connect with a Chicago Premises Liability Lawyer from Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC. They are always available to listen to your concerns and help you determine whether you have a valid legal claim.