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Aussie pensioners in $12,000 fight with council after tree smashes home and car

The couple claim they've been left out of pocket, but authorities have wiped their hands of responsibility.

A pensioner couple who repeatedly warned their local council about a tree they described as an accident waiting to happen is fighting for compensation after it eventually fell, crushing their car and damaging their home.

Melburnians Rosemary and Ted McCormack — residents of Ballantyne Street in East Burwood for over 50 years — said the tree beside the footpath in front of their home had become a constant issue over the years, splintering and ripping up parts of their driveway.

Couple warn council over 'dangerous tree'

They knew it was just a matter of time until it collapsed completely and had even warned Whitehorse City Council about the potential dangers on a number of occasions.

Then, on December 7 last year, a powerful storm bowled the tree over, causing it to crash into the couple's 2013 Hyundai Accent, which had only done 45,000kms.

Rosemary and Ted McCormack.
Rosemary and Ted McCormack are fighting to be compensated over their damaged property. Source: A Current Affair.
The fallen tree completely wrote the couple's car off.
The fallen tree completely wrote the couple's car off, which had only done 45,000kms. Source: A Current Affair.

The McCormacks say the tree also damaged parts of their home and left live wires at their doorstep, trapping them inside. "We did say to council, 'look, this will fall on our house one day," Rosemary told A Current Affair.

Fight for compensation

Though the couple's insurer AAMI paid them out for the car — which was written off — their daughter Amanda is now calling for council to cover the amount her parents paid for a replacement and for the $1000 home insurance excess.

"They're probably out of pocket $12,000 by the time they've had to pay their excesses on their insurance, they've had to buy another car — they're pensioners," Amanda said.

The tree that fell on the couple's home and car.
Other locals in the community also claimed they had noticed it was a potential danger. Source: A Current Affair.

"There'd be about half a dozen emails, and after that I started ringing them because we weren't getting anywhere."

In an email sent in 2012 Rosemary told Whitehorse City Council: "This tree keeps dropping branches and the roots are cracking and lifting our driveway".

Another local mum claims she similarly told the council she was "most concerned about the amount of wood and sticks which flew off the gumtree, denting [her] car and also hitting [her] two young children".

A second email from the McCormacks described "small twigs and branches falling off the tree and hitting our windows, some with great force".

"Could we please have this tree removed?" the couple begged.

Lawyer claims council 'may not be liable'

Lawyer Justin Lawrence from Henderson and Ball, said Whitehorse City Council may not actually be liable if one of its trees falls on private property.

"Council aren't liable just because the tree fell. But they might be liable if they've done something that contributed to the tree falling," Lawrence told ACA.

The tree that fell on the couple's home and car.
The couple say they had warned council about the tree for years, but council said it was in perfect health. Source: A Current Affair.

"If they agree with residents A and B and pay them out, they know that all the other residents will come to them for compensation as well, and they don't want that."

Whitehorse City Council responds

A spokesperson for the council said the tree had been routinely inspected over the years and was found to be in good health on each occasion.

"Whitehorse City Council has a programmed, two-yearly street tree inspection and pruning program, and responds to community requests which includes undertaking risk assessments," the spokesperson said.

"These inspections are by independent qualified arborists and Council's qualified inspecting arborist. The tree outside ... Ballantyne Street, East Burwood was inspected at least seven times since 2012 following a 'request for inspection' or during routine checks of Council trees.

"All inspections found the tree was healthy with good or fair structure. No obvious signs of ill health or structural defects were observed during any standard ground-based visual inspections of the tree."

In total, council had "received 15 requests for inspection of the tree since 2002" and each inspection "resulted in works being allocated to a contractor or no works required", it concluded.

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