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Wilson v. Beekman

2006 WL 2673242 (U.S. Ct. App. 3rd Cir. 2006) (Unpublished)

SIDEWALKS; SHADE TREE COMMISSION — A municipal Shade Tree Commission and its members are not liable for any accidents arising out of a shade tree and which resulted in death or injury, but to enjoy such immunity the local government or the shade tree Commission must have participated in, and successfully completed, a training skills and accreditation program.

A pedestrian was injured when he tripped over a damaged sidewalk adjacent to a law firm’s building. “Because the damaged sidewalk was alleged caused by shade tree roots lifting up the concrete on the sidewalk,” the pedestrian and his spouse desired to sue the municipality and its shade tree commission. The lower court denied them this right on three primary grounds. The first was that the municipality’s Shade Tree Commission was immunized from liability by New Jersey statute. “The second reason was that the existence of a municipal shade tree commission no longer immunizes adjoining property landowners from liability.” Finally, the lower court held that the municipality “was immune from liability under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act.”

Under New Jersey law, “municipalities are permitted to establish a shade tree commission. ... The primary benefit of establishing such a commission is that the commission and its members are not liable for any accidents caused by a shade tree which result in a death or injury.” This immunity, however, applies if two conditions are satisfied. The first condition is that if the tree or shrub is on public property or on a public easement or, regardless of its location, is under the jurisdiction of the Shade Tree Commission. The second is that “the local government or the Shade Tree Commission has participated in and successfully completed a training skills and accreditation program ... and has a comprehensive community forestry plan approved [under applicable state law].” There was no indication whether the municipality’s Shade Tree Commission had completed such a training skill and accreditation program. Consequently, the injured pedestrian and spouse were permitted to pursue their claims against the Shade Tree Commission, but not against the municipality.

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