OPINION ISSUED JUNE 8, 2000
RICHARD LEON THORNTON
DIVISION OF HIGHWAYS
Claimant appeared pro se.
Xueyan Zhang, Attorney at Law, for respondent.
Claimant brought this action for vehicle trailer damage which
occurred when his trailer struck a tree when he was traveling on
Route 34 in Hurricane, Putnam County. Route 34 is a road
maintained by respondent in Putnam County. The Court is of the
opinion to deny this claim for the reasons more fully stated below.
The incident giving rise to this claim occurred on July 17,
1998, at about 5:00 to 6:00 p.m. On the afternoon in question,
claimant was hauling a loaded twenty-four foot Pace American
enclosed car trailer with his 1990 Ford F-250 truck on Sunnybrook
Road to drive to a specific location to apply for a new State
inspection sticker. His vehicle trailer is about forty to
forty-two feet long, eight feet high and eight feet wide. As
claimant traveled on Sunnybrook Road to the point where he was
within approximately six hundred feet to the entrance of Route 34,
he encountered oncoming traffic and slowed the speed of his vehicle
to less than twenty-five miles per hour. At this location, the
road has a slight downward grade and is nineteen feet wide.
Claimant observed a tree leaning into the roadway about one hundred
feet away. As claimant approached the tree leaning into the road,
his trailer was struck by the tree approximately one foot from the
top of the eight foot trailer. Claimant travels this road
regularly, but he had never had any trouble driving by the leaning
tree on previous occasions. The property owner where the tree was
located informed claimant that the tree was in respondent's right
of way. The resulting damage to claimant's vehicle trailer was in
the amount of $1,565.15. However, claimant had a deductible
feature of $250.00 in his insurance coverage policy which would
limit any recovery to that amount.
The position of respondent was that it did not have actual or
constructive notice of the condition of the tree leaning into the
traveled portion of Route 34. Respondent's right of way in this
location is thirty feet, being fifteen feet on either side of the
centerline of the traveled highway. According to testimony from
respondent's District 1 Crew Leader Gary E. Stanley who conducted
an investigation on Friday, July 7, 1998, after receiving
claimant's complaint, he determined that the tree itself was not in
respondent's right of way. From the edge of the road to the tree
trunk was twelve feet which meant the tree was about seven to eight
feet from the State's right-of-way. The Crew Leader also observed that the tree was leaning, and he made plans to remove the tree the
following week. By the following week, however, the tree had been
removed, but not by respondent. According to respondent's Crew
Leader, the property owner where the tree was located informed him
that he had removed the tree. Respondent had no prior information
regarding the condition of the tree or that it may have posed a
danger to the traveling public before receiving claimant's
The Court has held in prior claims that when the evidence
establishes that respondent does not have notice of a hazard, such
as a leaning tree, and a reasonable opportunity to remove it,
respondent will not be held liable. Jones v. Division of Highways,
21 Ct. Cl. 445 (1995).
The evidence adduced at the September 3, 1999, hearing
establishes that respondent had no notice that the tree posed a
hazard to the traveling public. Consequently, there is
insufficient evidence of negligence upon which to base an award.
In view of the foregoing, the Court is of the opinion to and
does deny this claim.