According to The New York Times, the lawsuits were resolved in the past decade or so without court involvement and, in many cases, involved trees whose dangerous conditions were ignored. As a matter-of-fact, the City of New York has been quietly paying millions of dollars in damage claims and many more such claims are expected.
Probes are in place with attorneys and investigators reviewing parks and public records; taking sworn testimony from city officials, parks employees, and tree care experts; and interviewing external experts and parks officials, said The Times. The data, said The Times, reveals a fractured tree inspection and care system that is missing the mark when it comes to locating dangers. For instance, the system is comprised of untrained employees and tree pruning and repairs are put off for the sake of saving a dollar.
Now, lawyers for the city and lawyers for those who have been harmed, even killed, are fighting over the scope of New York City’s responsibility to keep people safe from dangerous, falling tree limbs. Not unexpectedly, notes The Times, the city is fighting for decreased responsibility, while lawyers for those injured, are fighting for more. Meanwhile, said The Times, appeals courts have rejected New York City’s position in at least two recent cases. Regardless, attorneys for New York City have fiercely fought some of the cases, denying blame and calling the injuries “tragic accidents,” claiming that it is not the city’s responsibility to conduct so-called “state-of-the-art” inspections to see if trees are rotting or sick.
Although New York City has two tree care systems in place—a privately and publicly-funded system for Central Park and a system that oversees the rest of the city—the lawsuits have revealed problems in both systems, according to the Times.
Tree safety and care is a problem in other cities, including Philadelphia, Chicago, and San Jose. “It’s a problem here and everywhere,” Douglas Still, the chief city forester in Providence, Rhode Island, told The Times. “Pruning programs are being cut, not increased.” Experts note that these cuts will lead to increased accidents, which will lead to increased damage payouts. Randall Swanson, a forestry professor at Paul Smith’s College in upstate New York, told The Times that “Preventative measures can go a long way toward reducing the possibility of tree-related injuries.”
There are some 2.5 million trees in the city of New York.
“Unfortunately,” said park’s commissioner Adrian Benepe, “nature is unpredictable and limbs can fall even from healthy and well-pruned trees. The only absolute correction would be to have no trees at all, which would mean a city with much dirtier air, hotter temperatures, polluted water, and desert-like streets and public places—in short, a city that would be neither healthful nor livable.”
According to The Times, the city is not keeping up with changes in tree inspection technology, noting that, for instance, untrained parks staff are only looking for obvious evidence of damage with trained arborists becoming involved after problems are noted by the untrained staff.
Rutgers pointed out that, although weather can cause damage to otherwise healthy trees, improper pruning, structural defects, pest infestation, and disease can weaken trees and lead to their death. Assessment is important, noted Rutgers, as is ensuring skilled specialists maintain trees; poor maintenance can lead to numerous and dangerous problems.