December 22, 2023

Court of Appeals Decides that Property Owner Complied with Tree-related Duties

In early 2021, a windstorm with gusts reaching upwards of 75 miles per hour hit Spokane, causing widespread destruction. During the storm, a ponderosa pine tree located on a residential property snapped. The top of the tree landed on and damaged two vehicles on a neighboring property. A lawsuit ensued. The Washington Court of Appeals decided in a recent unpublished opinion that the owner of the property on which the tree was located was not negligent with regard to it. The Court summarized the governing law as follows:   

"A landowner is not under a duty to guarantee their trees will not harm persons or property on adjacent land when the trees are part of the natural landscape. Rather, a landowner is obliged to take corrective action toward their trees when on actual or constructive notice of defects ... A landowner is on notice when defects in their trees are 'readily observable.'"

The Court concluded that the record failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the owner of the property on which the tree was located had actual or constructive notice of a defect in her trees. Without such notice, she had no duty to take corrective action.