September 13, 2016
by Kristen E. Boyle
Hunt Leibert – USFN Member (Connecticut)
In a recent Connecticut Superior Court decision, the court found that a homeowner, even one with a name like HSBC Bank USA, is not negligent when a tree falls from one property to another and causes damage. [Corbin v. HSBC Bank USA, NA, No. WWM-CV-156009704S (Conn. Super. Ct. June 3, 2016)].
In Corbin, the court upheld the long-accepted standard that homeowners are not liable to one another for damages caused by natural conditions on the land. In the winter of 2015, the plaintiffs (homeowners whose property is located next to a foreclosed, bank-owned property) contacted the real estate agent tasked with selling the neighboring property, explaining that a tree on the bank’s property appeared to be damaged and decaying. The agent went to the property to inspect and take pictures of the tree — but a month to the day later, and before anything could be done, the tree fell onto the plaintiffs’ property. The falling tree destroyed a work shed filled with tools and personal belongings. The plaintiffs then brought suit for negligence and nuisance.
While the Connecticut Legislature has been discussing this very issue, no laws have been put into effect, and the court relied on the well-established use of the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 363 (1965). That section states that “neither a possessor of land, nor a vendor, lessor or other transferor, is liable for physical harm caused to others outside of the land by a natural condition of the land.” The court found that the plaintiffs failed to allege that the tree was anything other than a natural condition on the land; and, as a result, the defendant’s motion to strike both the negligence and nuisance counts was granted, as well as the defendant’s subsequent motion for judgment in its favor.
The plaintiffs had asserted that the damage to their shed and its contents caused by the tree present a basis for liability under 1 Am. Jur. 2d, § 21, given that the defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the defective condition. The court was not persuaded by this argument and cited several Connecticut cases that continued to apply the common law rule under the Restatement in lieu of the plaintiffs’ theory. While the American Jurisprudence interpretation may be relied on in other states, Connecticut remains an exception for now.
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