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Liability for Falling Trees and Branches BY JOEL WILLIAMS

In Georgia, metropolitan area landowners can be liable for injuries caused by falling trees and tree branches if they know that a tree on their property has visible damage, rot or decay. This is commonly known as the “visible rot rule.” Acworth’s population has grown significantly in recent years, and it is considered a metropolitan area. Therefore, landowners need to exercise diligence in inspecting their property for visibly damaged or rotting trees. Landowners are not required to inspect trees for damage that is hidden; however, any tree that has visible rot, decay or damage should be removed. This simple action will help ensure that you will not be liable for injuries or property damage that may be caused by falling trees or limbs. When a home or person is hit by a falling tree, the damages are usually catastrophic, so it is important for landowners to act reasonably and do everything possible to remove damaged trees and limbs from their property. If a falling tree or branch causes your personal injuries or property damage, there are several things you should do to preserve your ability to bring a claim against the property owner and his or her insurance company. Liability is not automatic, and you must prove negligence. Document the condition of the tree with photographs or video. Report the incident to your

local authorities and notify any insurance company that may be involved. If possible, arrange for an arborist to inspect the tree. There must be some documentation of visible damage or your claim will fail. Also, try to find a witness who can prove the property owner had knowledge of the damaged tree or branch. Disinterested witnesses are often the key to proving that a property owner had prior knowledge of a dangerous condition. A common defense in falling tree cases is “assumption of the risk.” This means that an injured person cannot recover if they had prior knowledge of the dangerous condition and voluntarily entered the danger zone. Georgia law requires everyone to exercise reasonable care for their own safety, and it will not allow someone who voluntarily encounters a known hazard to recover if they are injured by the hazard. The visible rot rule requires us to use common sense. Simply put, property owners should remove visibly damaged trees and limbs, and the public should avoid areas where damaged trees are known to exist.

Joel Williams is a partner at Williams|Elleby, a Kennesaw based personal injury law firm. gatrialattorney.com

Labor Pains Continue for Employers BY RYAN BLYTHE

Part of my continuing education is through trade association memberships. Two of the most prominent in my industry are the American Welding Society (AWS) and the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association (FMA). Recently, I attended the AWS summit near Houston, Texas. The area is essentially the energy industry’s Silicon Valley. Major employers like Exxon, Chevron and Baker Hughes have significant operations there. During the conference, we heard from analysts who anticipate $46 billion in upcoming Gulf Coast projects. While that news was well received, the expert forecaster shared concern about the region’s tight labor market. Later in the trip, I noticed the hotel, restaurants and bars I visited were struggling with staffing issues. Working my way from Houston to New Orleans, and eventually Biloxi before returning home, I encountered more of the same. Help Wanted signs were everywhere. Sign-on bonuses, referral bonuses and advertisements promised immediate hiring for qualified applicants. Not long before this trip, I was vacationing in Southern California, and, in Orange County, more than a dozen hotels were under construction and fast-food joints offered starting wages of more than $17 per hour. Last month, the FMA asked 100 manufacturing employers: What keeps you up at night? While there were several concerns, including trade policies, government regulations and 32

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rising health care costs, no issue drew as much concern as the lack of available skilled labor. So, how did we get to this point? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, our nation’s unemployment rate is at 3.7% and has experienced the longest economic expansion in history, dating back to the summer of 2009. A significant reason for our labor pains is the number of baby boomers retiring. According to the FMA, 10,000 retire daily. During one year, that number is 3.6 million. FMA predicts manufacturing shortages will reach 2.5 million workers by 2025. The private sector and the government need to address our labor issues, and the accompanying skills mismatch. There are many ideas out there, ranging from more emphasis on trade education, increased funding for employee training, returning industrial arts programs to high schools, immigration reform, and implementation of European-styled apprenticeships. Let’s hope we don’t wait until the next recession to find solutions. I think an all-of-the-above approach would be wise. Until then, you probably will experience slower service and, in the manufacturing industry, product delays. Hang in there!

Ryan Blythe is the founder of Georgia Trade School, which, for the fourth consecutive year, was named one of the Cobb Chamber Top 25 Small Businesses of the Year.

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