Are You Liable If Your Tree Falls on a Neighbor's Property?
As the winter months begin and we experience winds, tornados, rain, and snow, many of us have one or more types of trees on our property. Trees provide shade and complement landscaping nicely, but they can also cause significant disputes when they fall over. A tree may fall over if it is not adequately maintained and diseased, or it may fall over during a storm. When a tree falls over onto a neighbor's property, homeowners are often left to wonder if they are liable. Most people assume that they are liable since it is their tree. However, this is not always true.
When a tree falls over onto a neighbor's property, that neighbor should submit a claim to their 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 homeowner's responsibility. 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 homeowner could be held liable. If the tree fell on the neighbor's home when the homeowner was trying to cut down the tree without professional help, the damage would be the homeowner's responsibility. Also, if the tree was dying, unstable, or diseased and the homeowner knew about it, they could be liable if it fell over on its own. They could also be liable if it falls over during a very light storm that would not usually knock over a tree. When homeowners know they have dying, diseased, or unstable trees, it is their responsibility to take steps to prevent them from causing severe damage.
If a homeowner is liable for the damages, their insurance company will have to pay the damages. The insurer will also have to investigate the claim and defend the homeowner if they are sued by the neighbor whose property the tree fell on. If the homeowner being sued loses, their insurer will pay up to the policy limit for damages. For any further damages beyond that, the homeowner 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 homeowners 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. Homeowners 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 home being destroyed and the legal costs that ensue. For those who plan to stay in their homes for any time, it is best to keep peace with neighbors, so this is also an excellent way to prevent quarrels or ongoing problems. To learn more about damage claims from fallen trees, discuss concerns with an agent.