A tragic car accident in Knoxville earlier this month raised an interesting question. If a large, natural object such as a tree falls on your car, who is liable? Certainly not the driver.

A woman was traveling on Colonial Drive on a recent afternoon when a tree on some private property fell over and crushed her car. She died in what authorities call a “freak accident,” according to Volunteer TV. It apparently took crews two hours to remove her body from the car.

The city was called to remove the tree. As it turns out, the owner of the property on which the tree stood called the city to complain about it in the past. The city inspected it and noted that it leaned heavily toward the street, had a crack near the bottom and needed to be cut down. Clearly, that never happened.

The question is, why? The public service director for the city says the tree was not cut down by the city because it’s the owner’s responsibility. And the inspection apparently did not reveal that the tree was an “imminent threat,” Volunteer TV reports.

The city noted that if the tree had been on an abandoned property, it may have been cut down. Whether the tree was alive or dead, which responding firefighters apparently couldn’t determine, could ordinarily be a deciding factor in whether the owners were negligent.

The tragedy serves as a reminder for homeowners to regularly check the trees in their yards. A falling tree can be just as dangerous as a speeding semi truck.

Source: Volunteer TV, “Woman killed when tree crushed her car identified,” Sharee Gilbert, Dec. 15, 2011