Fallen tree a quandary for Anniston woman -- and city council

·3 min read

May 19—Carol Malet was getting ready to leave her house on the morning of Palm Sunday when a vine-covered tree fell on her 2005 Scion.

Malet, 78, has been carless ever since.

"The insurance company told me that because it was a living tree, not a dead one, it was an act of God and there was nothing they could do," Malet said.

Malet, who lives on Woodland Court in Anniston, is one person with a very specific problem — one that isn't directly related to the tornado that struck Calhoun County in late March, leveling acres of forest and damaging hundreds of buildings.

But her problem is one that fell through the cracks, leaving her without a car for more than six weeks. On Tuesday, her problem landed in the lap of the Anniston City Council.

"I'm asking the council to take some action to help this lady get her car repaired," said City Councilman Jay Jenkins, in a work session before the council's regular meeting Tuesday.

Malet lives in the Rocky Hollow neighborhood, where wooded hills loom over winding roads lined with older houses not far from the city's center. She's one of the first members of Rocky Hollow's neighborhood association, whose members have done cleanups and served as a neighborhood watch out in the neighborhood in recent years.

"I really believe it's one of the safest neighborhoods in the city now," Malet said.

Malet's house is near a creek that runs down a hillside, shaded by trees. The creek — and the trees — are the city's property. Five years ago, one of those trees fell on Malet's house, she said. Later she asked the city to cut down five or six additional trees that seemed ready to fall. City workers cut them down.

But the city denied another request from Malet a few years later — to chop down the tree that eventually fell on March 28. That's the story as told by both Malet and city officials.

The tree dented the roof of her car, and it apparently damaged something else, because the car won't start. City workers cut the downed tree, got it off her car and pushed the car under an awning.

But now Malet is stuck. Living on social security, she said she couldn't afford anything but the most basic insurance, and she said her insurance won't pay for it. City staff said the city's insurance also won't cover the damage. Again, it's because the downed tree counts as an "act of God."

"My friends have been stepping up," Malet said. "They're taking me to the doctor and to the store. We're all in our 70s."

City officials on Tuesday described Malet as being without a car "since the tornado," but Malet said the tree fell after the March 25 storm. Her property, she said, didn't even get much rain from that storm.

Council members and city staff say they want to help Malet get her car fixed. But it's complicated. The council isn't allowed by law to give public money to an individual person, in most cases. City attorney Bruce Downey said the council could declare that Malet has a claim against the city and pay Malet damages. But that could lead to a "tangled web to unravel," Downey said.

"I recommend you be very careful not to be the guarantor of all the trees in the city," Downey told the council Tuesday. Council members on Tuesday discussed the possibility of voting on the issue the same day, but city manager Steven Folks asked the council for more time to study the matter.

Malet said she simply wants her car fixed, no matter who wants to help her fix it. She said her phone started to ring with calls from concerned neighbors as soon as the tree went down.

"We've got a great community," she said.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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