Landowners not responsible for death caused by fall of apparently healthy tree
Sixteen-year old Sufian ("Shawn") Amin was killed when a large tree suddenly cracked and fell on him as he was walking on the sidewalk adjacent to the defendant's property. His mother, Kwala Amin, filed suit against the landowner, the Marino S. Papalas Trust, alleging negligence and nuisance in failing to maintain the tree. The trial court refused the Trust's Motion for Summary Disposition, noting that neighbors had testified that flocks of birds gathered in the tree, allegedly eating insects in the diseased interior of the tree, and therefore, the Trust was on notice of the need to act to render the tree safe.
The Court of Appeals reversed, however, and dismissed the case. It noted that the tree appeared healthy, had a green canopy even on the date of the incident, and that the landowners had paid a tree service to trim it every four years. While a landowner has a duty to maintain its premises so as not to endanger passers-by, this duty relates only to hazards that are known or that should reasonably be identifiable to the property owner.
In this case, both plaintiff's and defendant's tree experts disagreed with the neighbors' [erroneous] lay assessment that the congregation of birds was a reasonable indicator of disease in the tree. Therefore, the family of the dead boy had provided no evidence of negligence in the landowning family's failure to recognize and remove the diseased tree. Obviously, the collapse of the tree and Shawn's death was a tragedy, however, it was not caused by a "failure of due care" by the Papalas family.