Six people suffered a variety of injuries requiring hospital treatment when a large limb broke off a rotting tree and fell into a farmer’s market being held on the grounds of the University of Virginia Medical School in Charlottesville. The accident occurred on the afternoon of August 14, 2014. News reports offered few other details, but the victims’ wounds were described as non-life-threatening.



Falling trees and branches can kill and leave people permanently disabled because they often weigh tons and make impact at great speed if they come down from a significant height. The danger also usually arrives unexpectedly for people on the ground. However, property owners have legal obligations to know and minimize the hazards posed by objects on their grounds. Laws and regulations related to this principle come under the collective title of premises liability, and tending to trees is included in this body of statutory and case law.

To put this into terms directly relevant to the accident at the UVA Medical Center, whichever organization has legal ownership of the property had the responsibilities for knowing the tree that shed its limb was sick or damaged and for having the hazard removed. Writing from my personal injury law office in Virginia Beach and not being involved in this case, I cannot know whether the property owner is the medical center, the university, the state or another entity. Having been involved in similar incidents known informally as slip and fall cases, though, I do know that the people injured in Charlottesville have recourse to receive coverage and compensation for their medical bills and related losses through the liable organization’s property insurance.

I wish the victims full and rapid recoveries.