Updated: Apr 1
When a tree falls over onto a neighbor's property, property owners have been asking who is liable? Most people assume that the liability is is the responsibility of the property owner where the tree lands. However, this is not always true.
When a tree falls over onto a neighbor's property, that neighbor should submit a claim to his or her insurance company immediately. The insurance company is usually responsible for taking care of the damages. This is true if the tree fell over due to an act of nature. For example, a healthy tree that falls over during a tornado, hurricane, wind storm or winter storm would not be the responsibility of the homeowner. Since the homeowner living on the property where the fallen tree was rooted did not intentionally push the tree over, nature is responsible. This means that the neighbor's insurance policy should cover it under perils.
However, there are some cases where a property owner of the tree could be held liable. If the tree fell on the neighbor's property when the property owner was trying to cut down the tree without professional help, the damage would be the property owner's responsibility. Also, if the tree was dying, unstable or diseased and the property owner knew about it, he or she could be liable if it falls over on its own. The property owner could also be liable if it falls over during a very light storm that would not normally knock over a tree. When a property owner know they have dying, diseased or unstable trees, it is their responsibility to take steps to prevent them from causing severe damage.
In the event a property owner is liable for the damages, his or her personal insurance company will have to pay the damages. The insurer will have to also investigate the claim and defend the property owner if he or she is sued by the neighbor whose property the tree fell on. If the property owner being sued loses, his or her insurer will pay up to the policy limit for damages. For any further damages beyond that, the property owner is financially responsible. Neighbors can also submit liability claims against homeowner policies.
Most cases involve trees falling over due to storms or acts of nature, so many property owners whose trees fall over do not have to worry about their insurers footing the bill. Also, they do not have to worry about premium increases if they are not found liable for the damages. In some cases, neighbors may still try to sue to recover their deductibles. The best way to avoid this scenario is to prevent it in the first place. Property owners should check their trees regularly and have them inspected at the first sign of disease or any health issues.
A professional arborist can analyze the tree to see if it needs any special treatments, pruning or complete removal. This may seem like an unnecessary expense, but it is much less expensive than the potential cost of paying for a neighbor's property being destroyed and the legal costs that ensue. Property owners should regularly inspect not only their own trees, but neighbor’s trees as well. If you notice a neighbors with dead or dying trees, you should let them know as soon as possible. The best way to inform a neighbor is by send a registered mail letter with saved copies and acceptance receipt for your files. Acceptance of registered mail notifications will avoid denial of notice claims if you get into disputes later.