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Court analyzes duty of adjacent property owning Association where dead trees fall on injury victim's house...and victim

Michael Gibbons was injured when a 2' diameter tree limb fell through his roof and struck him.  He found this to be somewhat distressing, particularly since it wasn't the first time his home had been struck by limbs falling from aged or diseased trees on the adjacent property.  In fact, he and his wife had written 3 letters to the Horsehoe Lake Corporation, the entity that controlled possession of the adjoining lake "access" lot, complaining about the situation, the damage to their home, and the need to address the dangerous condition of the trees.

After this incident, the Gibbons filed suit against the Horseshoe Lake Corporation, but the court summarily dismissed their case. The judge held that under current Michigan law as interpreted by the Republican majority on Michigan's Supreme Court, the situation didn't constitute a "nuisance," and furthermore, the tree limb fell in a storm:  the judge ruled that this "excused" any negligence by the Corporation.

The Court of Appeals agreed that the facts don't constitute a "nuisance" as our Supreme Court now defines nuisance, but overturned the lower court's decision regarding negligence.  It pointed out that since Gibbons wasn't even on the Corporation's property when he was hurt, this wasn't a "premises liability" claim, and furthermore, the allegations were more compatible with a negligence theory of faiiling to act with due care in inspecting the trees and maintaining them in a safe condition. 

The judges also made short work of the "storm" defense.  It pointed out that the evidence about windspeed when the huge limb fell was inconsistent and certainly didn't support any argument that the wind was strong enough to excuse the Defendant's behavior.  Furthermore, it was entirely foreseeable that high winds or a storm would occur and eventually bring down a large, diseased tree limb that had been identifiable, according to experts, for as many as 15 years.

Summary disposition was reversed and the case was sent back to the lower court for a trial that has already been delayed for three years.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
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Traverse City, Michigan 49684
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