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

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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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


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 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.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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