Who can you hold accountable for damages sustained in an accident when mother nature is the apparent culprit? Several Pasadena families may be wondering who they can seek compensation from after their children were struck by a tree limb last month. Three Pasadena children were injured at a daycare center when a limb broke away from its tree and plummeted toward the children below. At least one of the children suffered critical injuries and required medical attention at a local hospital. Investigators are still trying to determine what caused the tree limb to fall.
Injuries sustained in personal injury accidents are generally not inexpensive. Ambulance costs, emergency surgery, rehabilitation, hospitalization, and the costs of medicine and prescriptions can easily leave a family with a hefty bill. Most Americans do not have enough in savings to cover the costs associated with recovering from a personal injury accident. Who can families ask for compensation from when there is no clear or obvious culprit after an accident?
Personal injury accident claims are generally based on the negligence of another person. Negligence arises when a person has a responsibility to act in a certain way but fails to do so. The breach of this responsibility results in an injury or harm. Who can be held responsible for negligence when a tree branch falls and injures a child? The families may want to hire an experienced Pasadena personal injury attorney to help them figure out who may or may not be liable for their children’s injuries.
This particular incident will likely give rise to a personal injury claim based on premises liability. In a premises liability lawsuit, a victim will argue that the owner of property is responsible for an injury he or she sustained while on that property. So, for example, the children’s families may argue that the daycare center is liable for any injuries the children sustained while on the daycare’s property. When a business owner opens his or her property to the general public – or invites specific individuals onto that property – he or she assumes a responsibility for the safety of those individuals.
In California, property owners can be held liable for any injuries “on land they own, possess, or control.” Property owners are required to exercise reasonable care in the use, management, and maintenance of any property that is held open to others. Failure to exercise reasonable care – and to prevent reasonably foreseeable risks of harm – can result in civil liability for injuries that occur as a result. In this case, the question will boil down to whether or not the daycare facility owner exercised reasonable care in the maintenance of the facilities.
Specifically, the question will probably focus on whether the daycare facility owner has the duty to trim and maintain the trees on the property. Parents of the injured children will probably argue that the daycare center had a responsibility to provide an environment that is relatively safe for children. This should include the trimming and maintenance of any trees that could pose a threat to that safety. Arguments that could help the parents persuade a finder of fact (judge or jury) in this case could include:
- Trees and tree limbs had previously fallen at or around the daycare facility;
- The daycare facility knew the threat posed by weakened tree limbs; or
- The daycare facility should have known of the threat posed by the weakened tree limbs.
Knowledge of a risk to safety, and the failure to act on that knowledge, can result in liability for injuries that result. For example, let’s say that a storm had recently come through Pasadena and weakened several of the trees in the area. The daycare center, knowing that it would have children running around its property, should have checked any of the trees on the property for damage. If it knew that the trees could have been damaged, but failed to do anything about it, it could be held liable for injuries caused by those damaged trees. Similarly, if the daycare facility had been explicitly notified about damaged trees and chose to do nothing it could be liable for resulting injuries.
The question of liability in this case will probably come down to whether or not the daycare facility took reasonable steps to ensure the safety of the children. If the facility took all reasonable steps to prevent foreseeable risks of harm to the children then it may not be liable for injuries caused by the fallen tree limb. The daycare facility is generally only responsible for preventing foreseeable harm. If the tree limb in this case broke for no apparent reason and there was nothing the daycare facility could have done (short of removing the trees altogether) then it will probably not be held responsible for the children’s injuries. The question of liability in this case will come down to (1) what the daycare facility knew about the trees and (2) what the daycare facility did to ensure the safety of its visitors.
If you or someone you know has been injured while on another’s property you may be entitled to compensation. Contact our Pasadena personal injury office for a free consultation today.