Of all nature’s flora and fauna, trees seem to be among the very safest. After all, trees cannot sting or bite us. They can’t lay eggs in our floorboards, or peck and scratch at our vulnerable flesh. They can’t enter a cut to give us an infection, and they can’t bite down on our ankles and drag us beneath the surface of the ocean. They seem harmlessly anchored deep in the ground, still and serene for all time. However, while it’s true that trees are perfectly safe in the vast majority of instances, it is possible for trees to collapse or lose limbs, and to injure or even kill in the process. It may be a bizarre accident which can only be attributed to natural forces — or it may be a matter of negligent maintenance involving premises liability. In this blog post, our Philadelphia personal injury attorneys will take a look at some of the statistics and stories behind tree fall accidents across America.
There Are Over 250 Billion Trees in America Today
While pollution and deforestation are serious and valid environmental concerns, it remains that the United States is home to billions upon billions of trees. As a matter of fact, in spite of a dramatically increased population, there are actually more trees in America today than there were some 100 years ago. FAO, or the Food and Agriculture Organization, reports the following:
“Forest growth nationally has exceeded harvest since the 1940s. By 1997, forest growth exceeded harvest by 42% and the volume of forest growth was 380% greater than it had been in 1920.”
With approximately 250 billion trees spreading their leafy arms from coast to coast (not even counting trees which are smaller than one inch in diameter), America is home to 8% of all forest area in the world.
While sustaining injury due to tree fall is relatively unlikely, there are ample opportunities for accidents to happen. In some cases, accidents — sometimes fatal — have happened.
Jogger Killed By Falling Branch in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park
There have even been fatal tree fall accidents in Pennsylvania.
In 2009, Mary Kathryn Ladany was out for a jog in Philadelphia’s famed Fairmount Park. With 9,200 acres in total, Fairmount Park boasts a reputation as the world’s biggest landscaped urban park. (By comparison, Central Park covers a paltry 843 acres.)
Among these 9,000-plus acres of land, there are numerous trees. Sadly, one of them resulted in Ladany’s death when a 30 foot branch from a tulip poplar loosened and fell 50 feet to the ground below. The massive branch, large enough to be a small tree itself, struck Ladany and killed her instantly. In the aftermath, Philadelphia Police Chief Inspector Scott Small stated, “She has head injuries, what appears to be a broken neck and a compound fracture of her right leg.”
Danielle Tansits, a cyclist in the park, was disturbed by the random nature of the accident. “It could have been me,” she said. “It’s upsetting and scary.
Deaths from Tree Fall Happen Across the United States
More “upsetting and scary” still is the fact that Mary Ladany isn’t the only one to be victimized by tree fall.
In March of 2013, 12-year-old Connecticut girl Gabriela Hudak was struck fatally on the head by a tree which collapsed in her own yard. The girl was rushed into medical care, but succumbed to her injuries after a three-day battle.
In August of 2013, 30-year-old New York woman Yingyi Li was sitting on a park bench in Queens when she was crushed and killed by a falling oak tree. “There was just so much blood,” said one horrified witness. “The tree just crushed her.” Li was five months pregnant at the time.
In January of 2014, 50-year-old North Carolina woman Cheryl Harrison was killed after high winds caused a tree branch to sever and fall on top of her. Harrison was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.
This month, 22-year-old California woman Kenneisha Hawkins-Dale was killed while driving by a eucalyptus tree which collapsed along the side of Interstate 80 in Vacaville, CA.
NYC Tree Fall Accidents Lead to Multimillion-Dollar Lawsuits
Unfortunately, these terrible incidents are only a small part of a long list. OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) reports that on average, there are over 100 landscape and tree fall fatalities every year.
Within the tree care industry, these numbers are even higher. In fact, the tree care industry is one of the most dangerous in America. The Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) reports a “fatal accident rate that is roughly 10 times the average for all industries” for arborists, and for loggers, the fatal accident rate is a staggering 30 times higher than average.
Sometimes, these accidents lead to litigation, including wrongful death lawsuits, personal injury lawsuits, or premises liability lawsuits. For example, in New York City, Brooklynite Hinda Segal was killed by a falling tree branch in 2003. Her mourning survivors filed a lawsuit against the city. Defense attorneys countered that Segal and other at-risk passerby “should have known” about the potential dangers. Alan Greenberg, the Segal family’s attorney, described the defense strategy as being “rather distasteful and unfair and plainly untrue.” The jury ruled in favor of the plaintiff, and the grieving Segal family was ultimately awarded $1.6 million in damages.
In another New York City tree fall incident, 29-year-old Alexis Handwerker was non-fatally but severely injured by a collapsed branch — a branch which had decayed so badly it was completely hollow inside. After a lengthy trial, the city settled with Handwerker for $4 million.
Speak to a Philadelphia Personal Injury Lawyer of The Reiff Law Firm Today
If you or someone you love was hurt by a falling tree or tree branch due to negligent property maintenance, you may have a case for a lawsuit. For a free and confidential case evaluation with a highly experienced Pennsylvania personal injury attorney, call the law offices of The Reiff Law Firm today at (215) 246-9000, or contact us online.