Suffered Damage From Falling Trees in Singapore? What to Do
Almost 30% of Singapore’s urban spaces are covered by greenery, according to a 2017 study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the World Economic Forum. These green spaces are regularly maintained by the authorities, such as a Town Council (TC) or the National Parks Board (NParks). While this helps to drastically reduce accidents resulting from falling branches or trees, accidents can still happen.
If you, or someone you know, have been injured or suffered property damage from a falling tree or branch in Singapore, this article can help you with the following questions:
Who Should You be Claiming Compensation From?
If you intend to claim compensation for damage suffered due to a falling tree, the claim should be made against the party responsible for the maintenance of the tree. Generally, if the tree is located on private property, then the person who owns or occupies that property is responsible for its maintenance.
For trees located on public property, the party responsible will depend on where the tree is located. Generally, NParks is responsible for trees located within:
- Public parks
- National parks, such as the Singapore Botanic Gardens and Fort Canning Park
- Nature reserves
- Green buffers on heritage roads
- Tree conservation areas
- Vacant public property
For trees located within the common property in housing estates, the respective TC may be responsible.
What are the Chances of Your Claim Succeeding?
The success of compensation claims for injury or damage from falling trees or branches will rest on whether the party responsible for maintaining the tree has been negligent in maintaining the tree.
As the party seeking compensation, you must prove three things to the court to succeed in a claim of negligence:
- The negligent party owes a duty of care to you. Duty of care refers to a legal obligation for a party to act with reasonable care so that his or her actions do not harm others. In the case of falling trees, this duty of care translates into a general responsibility to ensure that the trees under your purview do not harm any person or damage any property. This general responsibility can include pruning to ensure branches are not overladen, regular inspection to ensure that trunks and branches have not been weakened by termites or weather and removal of any weakened trunks and branches.
- The negligent party breached this duty of care. You will need to establish the standard of care owed to you, and prove this standard of care has not been met. Generally, the standard of care would be pegged to what a reasonable person (regardless of the specific characteristics of the negligent party) performing the same task in the same circumstances would have done. For example, the court will consider how frequently a reasonable person would prune the trees, or the level of scrutiny that a reasonable person would undertake when inspecting the trees.
- The injury or damage you suffered was caused and foreseeable by the negligent party. You will need to show that the injury or damage would not have happened if not for the actions of the negligent party. You will also need to show that the negligent party could have reasonably foreseen that the type of injury or damage that you suffered could happen if they did not maintain their trees properly.
If you manage to prove the three conditions above, you may succeed in your claim. However, you may also have contributed to the accident in some way. For example, if you had been looking at your phone while walking, such that you failed to notice a tree branch on the ground and injured yourself after tripping on it, the negligent party may show there was contributory negligence on your part.
Contributory negligence happens when the injury or damage suffered by the person seeking compensation had been partly caused by that person’s own negligence. While this does not absolve the negligent party of his responsibility for the injury or damage, the court may decide to reduce the compensation according to your share of the responsibility for your injury.
To prove contributory negligence, the negligent party will need to show that you had not taken reasonable precautions to avoid the injury or damage. This is based on what a reasonable person performing the same actions in the same circumstances would have done and excludes your specific characteristics.
How Much Can You Claim For Injuries From Falling Trees?
If you are successful in proving your claim, the court may grant you two types of compensation:
- General damages. This refers to compensation for losses that arise naturally from the injury or damage. It includes compensation for your pain and suffering, loss of any future earnings and loss of limbs.
- Special damages. Special damages are compensation for losses that you have directly incurred because of that injury. This can include your medical expenses and transportation claims.
The court can also order further compensation. For example, the court may order punitive damages to punish the negligent party for their behaviour if it had been so egregious in failing to maintain the trees under their purview. Additionally, the court can also order the negligent party to pay your legal fees.
If you are interested in learning more about compensation for negligence claims and how it is calculated, our article on claiming for personal injury can help.
What are the Alternatives to Suing For Compensation?
Instead of suing for compensation if you have suffered injury from falling trees, you may try claiming compensation from the insurance policy of the negligent party.
For example, it may be possible to claim from the negligent party’s insurance policy if you can show that the branch that you had been injured by had been weakened by termites before the accident, and the policy owner could have prevented such termite damage through adequate inspection and maintenance of the tree.
On the other hand, the incident that you are trying to claim compensation for could have happened due to natural causes, and could not have been avoided through the other party’s preventative measures. In this situation, the incident could be considered an accident resulting from an “act of god”, which most insurance policies do not cover. For example, the falling of a tree branch on your car because of strong winds, despite the tree being recently inspected and declared to be healthy, may be considered an act of god not covered by insurance.
Depending on the terms of your insurance, you may also be able to claim from your own home, motor, or medical insurance for your injury or damage to your property.
Can You Cut Down a Tree that You Think Poses a Danger to Yourself or Your Property?
Trees on public property
Trees maintained by NParks are protected by both the Parks and Trees Act and the Parks and Trees Regulations. Approval would be required from NParks before these trees can be cut down. There are criminal penalties for cutting down these trees without approval, or for attempting to do so, where these penalties vary by area.
|National parks or nature reserves
|Up to a $50,000 fine, 6 months’ imprisonment or both.
|Green buffers on heritage roads
|Up to a $50,000 fine.
|Trees wider than 1 metre in tree conservation areas and vacant public property
|Up to a $50,000 fine.
Trees on private property
Trees located on private property are the responsibility of the owner or occupier of the property. You should seek their permission before pruning or cutting down the tree.
If the private property is located within a tree conservation area and the tree that poses a public danger has a girth wider than a metre, you will also need the permission of NParks to cut the tree down.
Cutting down a tree in a tree conservation area without NParks’ permission, or attempting to do so, can incur a fine of up to $50,000.
What Can You Do If You Suspect a Tree Poses a Danger to Yourself or Others in Singapore?
These are some of the steps you can take:
- Inform the owner or occupier of the possible danger to yourself or your property. If the owner refuses to prune or cut the tree, you may try working with your Neighbourhood Committees, or other community dispute resolution channels, to convince the owner or occupier to do so.
- Contact NParks to inform it of the possible danger. Approaching NParks is a possible option if the Neighbourhood Committees or other community dispute resolution channels have failed. NParks can issue a maintenance notice to the owner or occupier of the private property if the tree is a danger to public safety or property. If the owner or occupier fails to follow the maintenance notice, he or she can be fined up to $20,000.
If you, or someone you know, has been injured or suffered property damage because of falling trees in Singapore, do consult a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. Generally, injured parties have a deadline of three years from the date of the injury to bring a personal injury claim to court.
Each accident is different. A lawyer can advise you on your specific chances of a successful compensation claim and the compensation amount you are likely to get. Your lawyer can also help you gather evidence and build a stronger case for maximising the amount of compensation you get for damage suffered due to a falling tree incident.
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