Landowner Determined Not to Be Liable for Accident Caused by Untrimmed Foliage

Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case discussing an interesting issue that may come up in a Virginia car accident case. The case presented the court with the opportunity to consider whether a landowner could be held liable for an accident that was allegedly caused by untrimmed trees on the landowner’s property obstructing motorists’ view of an adjacent intersection. Ultimately, the court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the court should impose such a duty on landowners and dismissed the plaintiff’s case.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s written opinion, the defendant owned land adjacent to an intersection where the plaintiff and another motorist were involved in a car accident. The plaintiff died as a result of the injuries he sustained in the crash. The plaintiff’s estate filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the defendant landowner.

Evidently, a law enforcement official investigating the scene of the accident determined that neither of the motorists applied the brakes or attempted to avoid the collision. The investigator concluded that each of the motorist’s view of the intersection was obstructed by foliage that was on the defendant’s property.

The Court’s Opinion

The court began its analysis by noting that there was no current law establishing a landowner’s liability for failing to trim foliage on their property. In fact, the court explained that the law generally prevented a landowner from being held liable for any “natural conditions” of their land. The plaintiff, however, urged the court to adopt a different position when it came to determining landowner liability, focusing on whether the landowner knew of the hazard and, if so, took reasonable care to prevent future injury.

The court declined to adopt the plaintiff’s suggested analysis. The court noted that adopting the plaintiff’s proposed analysis would amount to placing a duty on landowners who knew or should have known of a hazard on their land. The court went on to explain that a new duty should only be adopted and applied by the courts if the harms sought to be avoided were foreseeable and the duty was consistent with public policy.

Here, the court eschewed the question of foreseeability and held that the duty was inconsistent with public policy. The court explained that the jurisdiction where the case arose was mostly rural, and that many landowners in the area plant tall crops. Thus, the court determined adopting the plaintiff’s proposed analysis would result in a very significant change in the delegation of liability in the state, which currently charged the government with the maintenance of public roadways. Thus, the court held that the defendant did not have a duty to trim their trees and dismissed the plaintiff’s case.

Have You Been Injured in a Virginia Car Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Virginia car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. Attorney Charles B. Roberts is a dedicated Virginia injury lawyer with decades of personal experience handling all types of personal injury cases, including Virginia car accidents. To learn more about how Attorney Roberts can help you pursue a claim for compensation against those responsible for your injuries, call 703-491-7070 to schedule a free consultation today.

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