I rent a double garage with a studio (live / work) over it.
There is a cluster of 3 trees, roughly 50' tall in front. Two are green, leafy & healthy. One is barren, as if it were winter.
Late June 2007, mid-day, sunny, no wind. Barren tree falls across the back of my truck, also striking a detached carport and the covered porch of the 'main' house.
I immediately called the landlord who said he'd pull up the insurance company's phone number and call me back. He called back shortly and said that he didn't have the insurance company's phone number with him and couldn't recall their name, so he'd have to call me back. I said that I had to get to a meeting early the next day so how about I removed the tree after taking extensive photos. He said, "fine."
Four days later, no follow up re. insurance, but he stops by while a crew is repairing the carport and house. I mention that I don't have comp insurance for the truck, local collision center says it's totaled (1996, so value was fairly low, $4,500 - $5500 roughly) and could he please get me his insurance info. He says he can't find it. And they didn't notify him, but it might have lapsed. Ugh. He's uninsured. (But he does have a mortgage per county records.)
He calls me 3 weeks later, rent is due. I say, no prob, just please get me that info for insurance. He says he's not liable and will start eviction if not paid in 2 days. I dig in, he sues, I lost, must be out in 7 days.
Judge's finding: I didn't prove that landlord was liable (written verdict) but he also (verbally) commented that I didn't prove what caused the tree to fall. I replied that if it wasn't rotten, there would be all kinds of sprains in the break, but my extensive photos showed a near-clean break, almost like it'd been cut with a very dull saw. How could any reasonable person conclude anything other than rot? Judge says he's not a tree expert, but I may want to mention that should I chose to appeal.
So I just filed the appeal yesterday. I'm looking for a lawyer, but first wanted to forestall the possession writ.
I'd mentioned to landlord that the tree looked dead and we ought to address that a year ago. Judge also said that me parking proximate to tree was an offset. My defense to that was I didn't know the danger was immediate and had planned to take the tree down myself between jobs.
My main issue: Assuming that "notice" last summer is my word v. his and therefore a wash. Assuming I parked proximate (there was no other reasonable place outside the 50' radius) did somewhat offset landlord's liability, but to say that it offset it 100% seems nuts. As the owner / commercial manager, doesn't the landlord bear the most responsibility for safety? He testified that he was frequently on the property and that there was nothing blocking his view of the leafless hickory.
I was stunned that the judge put all of the burden of proof on me, the tenant. Yes, I knew there was a problem, but "should I have know" the immediacy and extent? Oh, yeah, there's no lease. All verbal, but I'm relying on the code (state) that says that a landlord must keep the premises 'in repair.' Seems that allowing a rotten tree to remain isn't doing that.
I brought up two other defenses, both of which were denied, but the tree is the most perplexing. Thoughts? (Sorry for length; trying to include all factors)