Property Damage City tree totaled my car, claim was denied by city, do I file against my landlord or the city?

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Property Damage City tree totaled my car, claim was denied by city, do I file against my landlord or the city?

My car was recently totaled by a branch falling out of a tree owned by the city I
live in Chico, CA. I filed a claim for property damage with the city that included
my deductible, the balance remaining for payoff, my car rental, and a day of lost
wages. The city denied the claim with no explanation. I need to know if I should
pursue in small claims against my landlord or the city? The city never pruned
the tree in the 2 years I lived here, and it is clearly diseased. But my landlord
never notified them either.

Asked on March 21, 2017 under Real Estate Law, California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

The landlord would not be liable if the tree were owned by the city: person or business A is not obligated to tell person or business (or government unit) B about a hazard with B's property. Just as you would not be liable if you failed to tell your neighbor that his tire looked flat, and as a result, he had an accident, so, too, is the landlord not liable for not telling the city about its tree.
As to potential city liability: the city would only be liable if they had notice that the tree was diseased or the branches in danger of falling--basically, if someone had phoned, written, etc. in a complaint about it (which may be difficult for you to know or prove)--or if you can show by expert testimony (e.g. of an aborist or "tree surgeon") that such a tree should be prunned/trimmed at least, say, once every two year and that it was not reasonable to fail to trim/prune it at least that often. Only in these cases--ignoring notice or warning of an issue; or not following reasonale recommended safety, health, etc. guidelines--might the city have done something wrong and be liable. If you can show one of these things, you could win a case; if no, you will lose.


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