Jury determines tree damage from Rita 'act of God' not homeowner's negligence

David Yates Mar. 5, 2008, 7:14am

While the "if a tree falls and nobody hears it" philosophical question still remains unanswered, Jefferson County jurors were able to answer a question of a more legal nature: If a tree falls during Hurricane Rita is it considered an Act of God or negligence?

The property damage trial of Ronald Shilo vs. Victoria Outlaw concluded on Tuesday, March 4 with a verdict in favor of Outlaw, who was sued by her neighbor Shilo back in 2006 after Rita ripped a tree from her yard and planted it in his.

The case, which was tried in Judge Shuffield's 136th District Court, lasted only two days. Jurors deliberated for less than four hours before deeming the tree incident an Act of God.

In his suit, Shilo had claimed Outlaw's tree was "rotten," and he personally warned her before the hurricane that the tree needed to be cut down.

"Before Sept. 24, 2005, Victoria had on her property � a rotten tree," the suit said.

"Shilo, Outlaw's next door neighbor, put her on notice of the tree's dangerous condition. Outlaw took insufficient corrective action and as a result the tree was blown down as a result of Hurricane Rita destroying Shilo's real and personal property."

Also included in Shilo's suit were submitted motions in limine asking Judge Shuffield to stop the defense from discussing the insurance benefits Shilo received following Rita, his past lawsuits, and personal habits.

Shilo was represented by Provost Umphrey attorney Matthew Matheny.

Outlaw was represented by attorney Collin Cobb of the Benckenstein, Norvell & Nathan law firm.

The case was originally assigned to the 58th Judicial District before being transferred to the 136th Judicial District.

Case No. A177-034

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