Nicoletti, Gonson, Spinner, LLP

Amedeo and Angela Granata v. KeySpan and Hawkeye, Supreme Court, Nassau County, Index No. 8840/06

In October 2009, in New York State Supreme Court, County of Nassau, Partner Kevin Pinter engaged in a nine day jury trial defending KeySpan in an action arising out of alleged negligent tree-trimming services on plaintiffs’ property in Old Brookville, New York, located on Long Island’s Gold Coast.

Plaintiffs had purchased the property in 1993, which was part of a residential development originally built in 1959. The plaintiffs’ primary residence was situated on the property, which in addition to being beautifully landscaped, had power lines running along the easternmost boundary of the property line. Parallel to the power lines were a series of approximately 31 Norway Spruce and White Pine trees, which had been planted in 1959, when the development was originally constructed. LILCO held the original easement applicable to the property, which allowed it (and its successors and assigns, including KeySpan) unrestricted access to its power lines, and specifically, the right to periodically trim the trees to prevent complications arising from contact with the lines.

In the Spring or Summer of 2003, plaintiffs claim they returned from the family vacation home in Cape May, N.J. to discover that the subject trees had been “butchered” without their consent. Plaintiffs retained a horticulture “expert” who testified that due to the unnecessary excessive cutting of the trees’ branches, the subject trees were dying, and additionally that all such trees would eventually fall due to the actions of the tree trimmers. Plaintiff Angela Granata testified that the trees were “ticking time bombs”, and that she feared the trees would cause serious injury or death to her family, friends or neighbors. As a result, plaintiff’s expert opined that all remaining 29 trees (two had fallen in a winter storm in February 2008) needed to be removed and replaced, at an approximate cost of $500,000.

KeySpan contended that as a result of the easement, it had an absolute right to perform tree trimming services around its power lines, with or without the plaintiffs’ consent, and further, that its contractor performed the tree-trimming services in a reasonable manner, causing no damage to the subject trees. Defendants’ arboriculture expert testified that the tree-trimming services were performed reasonably, and that no damage to the trees occurred as a result thereof; further, defendants’ expert testified that removal and replacement of the trees was completely unnecessary.

After a lengthy trial, which, despite the pre-trial exchange of dozens of photographs of the subject trees among counsel, included a “field trip” to the plaintiffs’ Old Brookville estate so that the jury could personally walk the property and view the subject trees, the jury deliberated for 50 minutes prior to returning a defense verdict for KeySpan and its contractor.