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New York Municipalities Have Potential Liability For Non-Owed Trees Adjacent To Their Roads

September 8, 2023

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The Appellate Division, Second Department, recently addressed the liability of public entities for an accident involving a tree adjacent to a roadway. In <em><a href="">Jourdain v. Metropolitan Transp. Auth</a>,</em> plaintiff was injured when a tree, located on an embarkment owned by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (“MTA”), fell onto her vehicle as she was driving on a street. Plaintiff sued the MTA and township where the accident occurred. The trial court granted the Town’s motion for summary judgment but denied the MTA’s motion.

The Second Department affirmed the denial of the MTA’s motion and reversed as to the dismissal of the Town, holding that neither defendant was entitled to summary judgment. As to the MTA, the Court determined that they were “not entitled to governmental immunity, as the plaintiff’s claim arises out of the MTA’s duties as landowner, which is a proprietary function.”

As for the Town, the Court observed that “[a] municipality's duty to maintain its roadways in a reasonably safe condition encompasses those trees, adjacent to the roads, which could reasonably be expected to pose a danger to travelers.” The Court found that although the tree was not located on the Town's property, it was undisputed that the Town owned and maintained the road where the accident occurred and that the duty to maintain that road extended to the adjacent tree.

However, the Court also observed that the Town still needed to have actual or constructive notice of the alleged dangerous condition, and subsequently failed to take reasonable measures to correct the condition. To constitute constructive notice, a defect must be visible, apparent and “exist for a sufficient length of time prior to the accident to permit defendant's employees to discover and remedy it.” The Court found that the Town failed to establish, prima facie, that it did not have constructive notice of the tree’s condition or that it met its common-law duty to inspect trees adjacent to its roadways.

The <em>Jourdain</em> case serves as a reminder that a municipality’s duty to maintain roads extends to adjacent trees and that this includes a duty to inspect the trees for defects. The failure to do so could result in liability under New York law.

Thank you to Rebecca Edelman for her contribution to this post. Please contact <a href="">Andrew Gibbs</a> with any questions.


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