An interesting article in the Post Dispatch today discusses a rule that failed to pass in Crestwood regarding giving city officials more authority to trim vegetation on private property near public roads. The bill failed 5-2. More information can be seen here.
This is an interesting situation which we have run into in past cases. One case involved a driver crossing a road in a golf cart between two holes on a private golf course and getting hit by a pickup truck. The golf cart driver's view was obstructed by vegetation on the corner, keeping him from being able to safely see oncoming traffic. Additionally, the oncoming pickup truck could not safely see the golf cart approaching and crossing the road due to the same vegetation. In this case, we were successful in putting some of the liability on the owner of the property where the vegetation was growing due to his failure to safely and appropriately maintain the vegetation so vehicles could see down the road.
Another case we consulted on involved a bank that had bushes that blocked a driver's view pulling out of the bank, thereby crashing into an oncoming vehicle. The bank was responsible for a portion of the injured party's damages due to their bushes blocking the view of vehicles they knew were driving out of their drive through lane.
In Crestwood, it sounds like they were attempting to give the municipality more authority to make intersections safer. It is likely that the "nay" voters were not willing to give such broad authority to the government employees over a person's private property, which is a fair and reasonable argument to make. Now, it will be interesting to see how the property owners near intersections feel if and when they are sued for their bushes being too high and blocking the vision of drivers on the road.
To answer the ultimate question, courts in Missouri have held that the municipality can be held at fault for failing to trim. In Lampe v. Taylor the Court found that the municipality could be held responsible for failing to trim vegetation, thus blocking the view of the traffic signal. Important to note, the Court required there to be notice that the vegetation was blocking people's views. The Court held that "during the five-year period before Lampe was injured, the City was aware that there had been four other virtually identical collisions that resulted from a driver running the red light while westbound on Portland. "
For a private property owner, the liability can depend on municipal, county, or state codes and regulations. See, for example, Jackson v. City of Blue Springs where it was found that a private property owner could be held liable under a nuisance and negligence theory. The Court ruled that "we hold that liability may be imposed upon an urban landowner such as the Watsons under the theories of nuisance and negligence for injuries caused to those traveling on an abutting public highway by natural or artificial conditions on the land." The Court further laid out the elements of such a claim: the landowner (1) had a duty to trim the vegetation on the corner lot; (2) that their failure to do so was an "unreasonable interference with common community rights such as the public health, safety, peace, morals or convenience," City of Lee's Summit v. Browning, 722 S.W.2d 114, 115 (Mo.App.1986); and (3) that the interference resulted in special injury to himself, differing in kind and not merely in degree from general injury to the public, Grommet v. St. Louis County, 680 S.W.2d 246, 251-52 (Mo.App.1984).
So, in Crestwood, the city cannot go on to public lands to trim bushes, but be careful, because the landowner can be held liable if their vegetation causes a crash and the elements above are met.