In Georgia, metropolitan area landowners can be liable for injuries caused by falling trees and tree branches if they know that a tree on their property has visible damage, rot or decay. This is commonly known as the “visible rot rule.”
Acworth’s population has grown significantly in recent years, and it is considered a metropolitan area. Therefore, landowners need to exercise diligence in inspecting their property for visibly damaged or rotting trees. Landowners are not required to inspect trees for damage that is hidden; however, any tree that has visible rot, decay or damage should be removed.
This simple action will help ensure that you will not be liable for injuries or property damage that may be caused by falling trees or limbs. When a home or person is hit by a falling tree, the damages are usually catastrophic, so it is important for landowners to act reasonably and do everything possible to remove damaged trees and limbs from their property.
If a falling tree or branch causes your personal injuries or property damage, there are several things you should do to preserve your ability to bring a claim against the property owner and his or her insurance company. Liability is not automatic, and you must prove negligence. Document the condition of the tree with photographs or video. Report the incident to your local authorities and notify any insurance company that may be involved. If possible, arrange for an arborist to inspect the tree. There must be some documentation of visible damage or your claim will fail. Also, try to find a witness who can prove the property owner had knowledge of the damaged tree or branch. Disinterested witnesses are often the key to proving that a property owner had prior knowledge of a dangerous condition.
A common defense in falling tree cases is “assumption of the risk.” This means that an injured person cannot recover if they had prior knowledge of the dangerous condition and voluntarily entered the danger zone. Georgia law requires everyone to exercise reasonable care for their own safety, and it will not allow someone who voluntarily encounters a known hazard to recover if they are injured by the hazard.
The visible rot rule requires us to use common sense. Simply put, property owners should remove visibly damaged trees and limbs, and the public should avoid areas where damaged trees are known to exist.
By Joel Williams, contributing writer and a partner at Williams/Elleby, a Kennesaw-based personal injury law firm.