Falling trees and damaged cars: What you should know

MODESTO — A Modesto viewer says a city tree fell on her car last year, totaling it. When the city refused to cover the damage, she decided it was time to call Kurtis.

“It sounded like logs falling,” said Vanessa DeLise, who sent CBS13 photos of a fallen branch from a Modesto city tree crushing her 2006 Toyota in July.

“The second I walked outside, I started bawling my eyes out,” she said. “You could hear it crushing it the longer the was laying on it.”

When Vanessa was finally able to take it to the shop, she told her it would cost almost $9,750 — more than the car was worth — to fix. But when she turned to Modesto to cover the damage, they replied, “the city of Modesto is rejecting your claim in its entirety.”

Consumer attorney Stuart Talley says the government is liable for dangerous conditions on their property. But when it comes to trees: “You have to show that they were negligent in some way,” he says. “It only applies to conditions that they knew or should have known about.”

The city of Modesto says the tree in question was inspected and pruned in 2017 and then pruned again in 2018, but that “there have been no service requests or complaints since the pruning done on October 11, 2018.”

But CBS13 was curious how often Modesto services its 116,000 trees.

The city arborist admits with budget cuts and retirements, the city now only has three staff arborists. That means that there’s one arborist for every 38,666 trees, which means they aren’t pruned as often.

“It’s harder to get around the city in a timely manner,” he said. “It’s fallen from a seven to nine-year cycle to a nine to 11-year cycle.”

This is why the city says it relies on the public to report dangerous trees over the phone, by email or through the city app.

And had the tree that damaged Vanessa’s car been reported, the city may have covered her damage. Instead, with only basic liability insurance, she is out of luck.

Kurtis Ming


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