The Tennessee Court of Appeals has ruled that Knoxville isn’t liable for a tree that fell on and killed a woman driving on a city street.
Judge Thomas R. Frierson wrote for the court that even if the city knew the tree, located on private property, was diseased or damaged, it owed no duty of care to motorists to remove it.
“The only allegation of danger or a safety concern in this case is that there was a tree growing on private property and leaning toward the street,” Frierson wrote. “The tree was not alleged to exist on property owned or controlled by the City. “The fact that the City had notice that the tree was leaning toward the roadway, however, does not give the City the right or a duty to remove it from the private land of a citizen.”
The family of 30-year-old Tiffany Raley sued the city after her death in December 2011 when the tree crashed onto her car as she went to pick up her son from school.
According to the lawsuit, the city had received complaints about the tree, which was leaning over the roadway and had a crack in the trunk. The legal action alleged the city owed a “duty of care” to motorists traveling Colonial Road and should have chopped it down despite the fact that the tree was on private property.
Knox County Circuit Court Judge Dale Workman rejected the claim. In its opinion, the appellate court agreed.
The Knoxville News Sentinel reported that Frierson concluded the city had no right to remove the tree unless it was actually blocking the roadway and, therefore, bore no responsibility for Tiffany Raley’s death.
“We determine that where the City has no ownership of the tree and there is no allegation that it was actually obstructing the roadway, the City would have no right or duty to remove it,” the opinion stated.