Pandan Valley condominium's management corporation not to blame for tree that fell and damaged cars, rules judge

Aug 12, 2019

A district judge has held that a condominium management corporation (MC) was not liable for damage caused to cars parked on its grounds overnight when stormy weather uprooted a tree in the estate.

District Judge Lee Li Choon, in dismissing damages sought by two residents for negligence, ruled that they failed to show that the MC of Pandan Valley condominium breached its duty of care.

"The plaintiffs have also not shown that the tree would not have fallen but for the negligence of the defendants in maintaining the tree," she said in decision grounds issued last month.

The court, in the first such reported case on liability involving parked cars damaged by fallen trees on a condominium's common property, accepted that the MC had a duty of care.

But the issue turned on whether the MC had breached the standard of care expected of it as the condominium's management agency and if such breaches led to the damage, said the district judge.

The cars had been parked in the open carpark in front of Block 4 of Pandan Valley condominium on Dec 28, 2015, when it rained during the night.

The next day, the two residents discovered that an angsana tree had fallen and damaged their cars.

The duo claimed that the MC had failed to take adequate measures to ensure that the tree did not pose any reasonably foreseeable danger or did not fall and cause damage to property.

Among other things, their respective lawyers, Mr Christopher Fernandez and Mr Faizal Mohamed Ashraf, alleged that the MC had failed to properly assess tree risk using arborists and to ensure adequate growing space for the tree.

The MC countered that the tree showed no signs of decay or root rot and there was provision for pruning of the trees with a regular landscape contractor.

The MC's lawyer, Mr Hong Heng Leong, further argued that it was exempt from liability as the vehicles were parked at the owners' risk, pointing to the conditions set out in the parking label issued to the car owners and on the notice placed at the carpark entrance.

Heavy rain and strong winds had uprooted the old tree, which toppled onto at least five cars.
A single joint expert's report by certified arborist Thomas Richard Gordon listed three contributing factors that caused the tree to fall.

The judge categorised them as environmental factors, force of gravity caused by the tree leaning, and restricted growing space that prevented the lateral spread of structural roots, which weakened the "internal root structure".

The judge found that the MC could not be faulted for environmental factors or for the tree leaning as it could not be established that it was leaning before it fell.

Neither was evidence shown that the MC fell short of industry standards for the pruning of trees in the condominium's common property.

The incident was an unfortunate "misadventure", the judge said, taking a leaf out of the coroner's finding in the case of the tembusu tree that fell at the Singapore Botanic Gardens in February 2017 and caused the death of a 38-year-old woman.

"Even if the defendants were to be judged based on the standard of care that was practised by the Singapore Botanic Gardens at the time of the incident and had performed the relevant tree assessments on a regular basis, based on the same conclusion as drawn in the coroner's case, the internal root problem would still not have been detected," said the district judge.

No evidence was shown that hiring a tree expert to do periodic tree risk assessment is the industry norm that the MC should have followed, she added.

The judge ordered the duo to pay $7,000 each in costs plus reasonable disbursements to the MC.