What is the value of a lovely oak tree that brings beauty and nature to a man’s front yard? For decades the tree stood strong, and the Fisher family enjoyed it season after season—until a reckless driver hit it, resulting in extensive damage that eventually killed the mighty oak.
For Mr. Fisher, the value was incalculable. There was no way for him to replace the magnificent oak, but in an effort to seek justice, he filed a tort action against Ms. Lowe, who was operating the car, and Mr. Moffett who owned the car. Mr. Fisher also sued their insurance company.
The accident occurred in Michigan where there is “no-fault” insurance. And tort liability for “noneconomic loss” caused by the “ownership, maintenance, or use of a motor vehicle” is allowed when “the injured person has suffered death, serious impairment of body function, or permanent serious disfigurement.”
But what about “permanent serious disfigurement” suffered by a beloved tree?
The trial court ruled in favor of the defendants, pursuant to Michigan’s No-Fault Insurance Law. Unfortunately for Mr. Fisher, the statute makes it poetically clear:
There was no liability,
Since No-Fault grants immunity.
Mr. Fisher refused to be felled by the lower court, so he appealed to a higher branch. Judge Gillis wrote the opinion for the Michigan Court of Appeals, with a nod to Joyce Kilmer’s famous poem, “Trees”:
We thought that we would never see
A suit to compensate a tree.
A suit whose claim in tort is prest
Upon a mangled tree’s behest;
A tree whose battered trunk was prest
Against a Chevy’s crumpled crest;
A tree that faces each new day
With bark and limb in disarray;
A tree that may forever bear
A lasting need for tender care.
Flora lovers though we three,
We must uphold the court’s decree.
Fisher v. Lowe, 333 N.W. 2d 67