You’ve read the book, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” …. but now, there is a Tree growing in front of YOUR home or business, in the City of Los Angeles. 

Unfortunately, the Tree growing in Los Angeles is pushing up the concrete sidewalk, and causing it to buckle, as if there’d been a recent earthquake.

Being a responsible person, you contact the City of Los Angeles and inform them of this Tree problem.  In most cases, nothing further happens, and that’s the end of the story.

If you are lucky, the response of the City of Los Angeles is to go out and inspect the problem and repair it if necessary.

But even then, what the City of Los Angeles does next is really quite surprising – the City holds YOU responsible.

Over recent years, the City of Los Angeles and other local Governments, in an attempt to shield themselves from liability, lobbied the State of California to pass California Streets and Highways Code Section 5610.  Section 5610 places liability for the sidewalk on the “Adjacent Landowner.”  And that person / entity is YOU !  To say the least, you have been Blindsided.  Your response is shock, since you did not put the sidewalk in, nor did you plant the Tree that is now affecting the sidewalk.  You are wondering how on Earth you could possibly be liable !  

The statute shifts responsibility for the maintenance and repair of sidewalk to the “Adjacent Landowner.”  The Statute, and subsequent cases interpreting the Statute, have held that the adjacent landowner owns all land from the edge of the sidewalk adjacent to their land to the middle of the street.  (What if the problem is a Sewer Connection under the street, which would be virtually inaccessible to the Adjacent Landowner ?

The City of Los Angles claims that it will gladly come out and repair and then bill you, the “Adjacent Landowner” for their expertise.  We are currently litigating a case involving a serious injury where an “Adjacent Landowner” Restaurant built a restaurant patio extension onto the sidewalk.  It turns out that neither the Restaurant, nor its construction company (now bankrupt), had a permit to do so.  

In the ongoing litigation, both the City of Los Angeles and the Restaurant have Cross-Complained against each other.

Logically, one would think that the entity that built the sidewalk, and planted the Tree, would be liable for injuries caused by their Negligence.  

However, logic and law are at times not in sync.

In our case, the City of Los Angeles claims that it had no notice of the danger caused by the un-filled, deep Tree well.  The Statute shifts the responsibility to the Adjacent Landowner to notify the City.  This makes nosense, since the City of Los Angeles had sent various employees to the area, on business for various other City departments.

Should there not be a duty on the City to inspect and identify hazards before an injury occurs ?

In our case, an 18-inch deep Tree well became unfilled (how?) and our client (Plaintiff), walking at night, in conversation with a friend, down the narrow and partially-obstructed sidewalk, and tripped and fell into the deep Tree well, sustaining serious injuries.

The City of Los Angeles claims that it is not liable, since it (allegedly) had no notice of the dangerous situation, while the Adjacent Landowner claims it thought it had a permit and does not know how the deep Tree well became unfilled.  Luckily for Plaintiff, case law places liability on the Adjacent Landowner when the land was altered for their benefit.

In our case, the construction of the Restaurant’s patio extension gave exclusive benefit to the Restaurant.

Does this situation make sense?   Should not the City of Los Angeles be liable, since they built the sidewalk, and planted the Tree ?   

Should the Adjacent Landowner be liable for a dangerous situation that it did not create ?

On the other hand, as in our case, what if the Adjacent Landowner did create the situation ?

What say you?