Interesting case involving a falling tree branch was discussed in the November 16, 2010 Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. In May, 2003, Maria Ortiz, along with her husband and two children, was riding her bike on the north side of the City. The group somehow got separated, so Ms. Ortiz waited for her family on the 900 block of North Wilson. Strong winds were noted in the area that day. As Ms. Ortiz waited on the sidewalk, a very large tree limb from a Siberian Elm located on property nearby, snapped off, knocked over a street light and struck Ms. Ortiz. Ms. Ortiz ultimately needed several surgeries and reconstructive surgery.
Ortiz sued Jesus People, a not for profit group the owned the lot where the tree was situated. The case went to trial in 2009. Ms. Ortiz presented evidence that it was negligent to have a Siberian Elm located in an urban area, as that particular type of tree was known to be brittle. The defense argued that Jesus People never knew the tree was hazardous. A jury returned a verdict for Ms. Ortiz for nearly $700,000. Jesus People appealed, arguing that no Illinois Court have ever addressed whether a property owner should be liable for a tree accident when there is no prior notice that the tree presented a hazard.
The 1st District Appellate Court recently affirmed the verdict. The Court took issue with the defendant’s assertion that the issue had not been previously examined. The Court noted that at least one earlier decision held that property owners in urban areas have a duty of reasonable care to make sure trees on their land are safe.
Congratulations to attorney Josette Belvedere who represented plaintiff.