Liability for Failure to Trim Bushes and Trees

The Supreme Court of Florida recently issued an interesting opinion. In Williams v. Davis,  No. SC05-1817 ( Fl. S.Ct.  Nov. 21, 2007) the Court initially notes that "all property owners owe a duty … not to permit the growth of foliage on their property to extend outside the bounds of the property and into the public right-of-way so as to interfere with a motorist’s ability to safely travel on the adjacent roadway."  But this case was not about foliage that extended beyond the property line but rather foliage on the property that obstructed the view of a motorist.

Here is more:  "courts must remain alert to the changes in our society that may give rise to the recognition of a duty even where none existed before. Absolute rules, while predictable in the outcomes they produce, may not be suitable to protect societal interests. This is especially true as we attempt to cope with the carnage on our highways. While a strict rule of immunity from liability for harms caused by conditions on land adjacent to roadways may have once been a practical necessity for an agrarian society and economy, it is markedly less so in Florida’s modern society and landscape. See Keeton et. al., supra, § 57, at 391. In the modern landscape it has become an inescapable fact that people rely heavily, if not exclusively, on the automobile for transportation both in rural and urban communities.  We simply cannot ignore the fact that every year highway accidents kill thousands and injure millions of our citizens, while inflicting economic costs in the billions of dollars. Under these circumstances, the dominance of the automobile and the dangers incident thereto have become a modern fact of life  that make it more likely that a dangerous condition on private property at a highway intersection may cause harm to those on adjacent roadways."

Nevertheless, the Court went on to say that "we can see little basis for imposing liability on the owner of a wooded residential lot for passively permitting the property to remain in its natural condition so long as the growth does not extend beyond the property’s boundaries. Unlike the situation in Whitt, wherein we concluded that it should be foreseeable to the operator of a commercial service station that obstructions to the vision of an exiting motorist could constitute a danger to adjacent pedestrians, we find it unlikely that a residential landowner would foresee that adjacent motorists would be endangered by the mere presence of foliage on the property."

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