Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal Finds for Property Owner in Falling Tree Branch Case

Published by The Pellegrin Firm June 20, 2020

On March 20, 2020, the Louisiana Firth Circuit Court of Appeal rendered judgement in a case involving a man injured by a falling tree branch while traveling downing Canal Street in Metairie. The plaintiff was riding on a motor scooter when a tree branch from a large oak tree fell and struck him. The plaintiff sued for damages, claiming that the defendant property owner was aware of the hazardous condition of the tree and failed to do what was necessary to prevent the incident from occurring.

This claim for damages is governed by Louisiana Civil Code article 2317.1, which asserts that the “owner or custodian of a thing is answerable for damage occasioned by its ruin, vice, or defect.” However, an injured plaintiff must show that the owner was aware of the danger and failed to exercise reasonable care to prevent any damage caused by the danger. In an affidavit, the defendant stated that he “had no knowledge or reason to know of any vice, ruin, or defect” in the tree. There was a home inspection done prior to the branch falling noting possible concerns about the tree. However, that inspector was not an arborist, and he was only looking at the condition of the tree relative to the structure resting on the defendant’s property. The inspector advised “monitoring the situation for problems and consulting with an expert as needed,” which the plaintiff claimed would have notified the defendant of the concerning condition of the tree.

However, the court determined that qualification of “as needed” indicated that the defendant was to ask for a consultation pertaining to the possible damage to the home since that was the only concern mentioned outright in the report. The plaintiff also gave testimony testifying that he had grown up in the neighborhood and passed the tree multiple times prior to the accident. He claimed to never think that the branch would fall even replying, “I had no idea,” when asked whether he had any indication that part of the tree was going to fall.

Even though the tree rested on the defendant’s property, the defendant never had any indication that the tree would fall, nor did anyone involved in the case believe that the branch would fall before it did. The plaintiff failed to meet his evidentiary to defeat summary judgment; therefore, summary judgement was granted for the defendant. The case is Thibodeaux v. Allstate Insurance Co, Docket No. 19-CA-458 in the court of appeal.