Pennsylvania Restatement (Second) of Torts § 324(A) provides No Relief for Man Injured by Falling Tree Branch
In Mathews v. Prospect Crozer, et al., 200 PA Super 274, the Pennsylvania Superior Court examined Restatement (Second) of Torts § 324(A) to determine if a pedestrian could seek relief against a landowner for improper maintenance of trees located on the property.
Lonnie Matthews was walking on a sidewalk in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, adjacent to a property owned by defendant Prospect Crozer (“Drexel Hill Property”). As he walked by, a large branch fell off a maple tree on the Drexel Hill Property, striking and severely injuring him. Matthews filed a Complaint against numerous parties, including the landowner, Prospect Crozer. At the time of the accident, Prospect Crozer and Defendant ALTS had in effect a contract in which ALTS agreed to provide snow removal for the Drexel Hill Property. Similarly, Prospect Crozer and Defendant IVS had in effect a contract in which IVS agreed to provide landscaping services for the Drexel Hill Property. Those contracts, however, did not include the inspection or maintenance of the trees on the Drexel Hill Property. Additionally, ALTS performed occasional ad hoc tree work on the Drexel Hill Property, always at Prospect Crozer’s request.
ALTS and IVS filed separate Motions for Summary Judgment under Pa.R.C.P. 1035.2, alleging that Matthews failed to establish that ALTS or IVS owed him a legal duty. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of ALTS and IVS on the basis Matthews failed to prove that ALTS or IVS owed him a legal duty. Specifically, the trial court rejected Matthew’s argument that the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 324(A) imposed a duty on the Defendants, finding Matthews failed to establish the Defendants had “undertaken” an obligation to inspect and maintain the trees on the Drexel Hill Property.
On appeal, the Pennsylvania Superior Court examined whether Defendants owed Matthews a legal duty under Section 324(A). Section 324(A) imposes, inter alia, a duty on a defendant to third parties when the defendant has “undertaken” an obligation to provide certain services:
One who undertakes, gratuitously or for consideration, to render services to another he should recognize as necessary for the protection of a third person or his things, is subject to liability for physical harm resulting from his failure to exercise reasonable care to protect his undertaking[.]
Restatement (Second) of Torts § 324(A) (emphasis added). See Cantwell v. Allegheny Cnty, 483 A.2d 1350, 1353 (Pa. 1984) (concluding that Section 324(A) correctly states Pennsylvania law).
Applying Section 324A, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has stated that “[i]t is not the contract per se which creates the duty; it is the law which imposes the duty because of the nature of the undertaking in the contract.” Farabaugh v. Pa. Tpk. Comm’n, 911 A.2d 1264, 1283 (Pa. 2006). Therefore, in analyzing whether a defendant undertook a legal duty under Section 324A, courts look at the specific contractual obligations or particular undertakings that the entity agreed to perform. See Beury v. Hicks, 323 A.2d 788 (Pa. Super. 1974) (utility provider undertook duty to maintain trees around its power lines by doing so for 24 years).
The Defendants ATLS and IVS admitted that had they noticed an issue with the trees on the Drexel Hill Property, they would have notified Prospect Crozer, but these facts were insufficient to establish that ALTS or IVS actually undertook to inspect and maintain the trees. Matthews developed no evidence to demonstrate ALTS or IVS ever undertook to notify Prospect Crozer about tree issues. Likewise, although ALTS trimmed the tree at issue in 2010 and removed a fallen branch a few years later, both at Prospect Crozer’s request, the court held it was not reasonable to infer from those isolated actions that ALTS had gratuitously undertaken or agreed to inspect and maintain the trees for the next eight years, when the accident occurred.
Can a pedestrian seek relief against a landowner for improper maintenance of trees located on the property? Ty Smith explains.