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If a Tree Falls in Maplewood... Who Should Pay?

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Kathryn Carliner Credits: Joe Strupp
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MAPLEWOOD, NJ - If a Maplewood Township tree’s limb falls on your car in a rain storm and causes hundreds of dollars in damage, does the Township pay for it?

Not always. Just ask Kathryn Carliner of Dunnell Road. 

Carliner, a five-year resident of the area, is disputing Town Hall’s rejection of her claim that a tree limb that crashed on to her Honda CRV’s hood last fall during a windy storm is the Township’s responsibility.

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“That is what I am contesting, that is what I don’t think I should have to pay,” Carliner said in an interview.

At issue is the $750 portion of the repairs that Carliner’s auto insurance did not cover due to her high deductible. She contends the Township should pay because the limb that did the damage was from a tree that was on Township property.

That property is the berm, the strip of land that runs along the curb of most Township streets, often dividing it from a sidewalk.

In Carliner’s case, that portion of Dunnell where she parked her car on Oct. 29, 2017, has no sidewalk. But since the tree is right next to the curb it is considered Township property.

When Carliner filed a claim at Town Hall for the $750, the case was turned over to the Township’s insurance carrier, PMA Companies of Janesville, Wis. In a letter to Carliner, the insurance carrier agreed that the tree was on Township property.

But the same letter rejected the claim, stating that the Township “had no notice of the condition purported to have caused the incident and, thus, no legal responsibility for the incident.”

It later cited a state statute related to claims against public agencies, which states, in part:

A public entity shall be deemed to have constructive notice of a dangerous condition only if the plaintiff establishes that the condition had existed for such a period of time and was of such an obvious nature that the public entity, in the exercise of due care, should have discovered the condition and its dangerous character.

Carliner contends that there was no way to foreshadow the dangerous condition because it was not on her property, and it became dangerous during the severe storm.

“I’m not a tree expert, how would I know if it was vulnerable?” she said. “I think it’s ridiculous. It was not on my property.”

She later added, “This was a huge limb that was obviously knocked off because of the storm.”

But Township officials say the insurance rejection stands and they plan to take no additional action.

“There is nothing further to comment on,” Maplewood Township Administrator Joseph Manning said via email. “She made a claim and our insurance company denied it. The Township does not pay claims that our insurance company denies.”

Asked if the Township would seek to discuss the findings with the insurance carrier, Manning wrote, “No, there have been similar claims in the past and I am confident that the decision is sound.”

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