Who Is Liable When a Tree Falls onto a Neighbor’s Property?

TREES PROVIDE shade and complement landscaping, but they can also cause major disputes with neighbors when they fall over.

A tree may topple over if it is not properly maintained, it’s diseased or a storm knocks it down. When a tree falls over onto a neighbor’s property, a homeowner is often left to wonder if they are liable. Most people assume that they are since it is their tree. However, this is not always true.

When your neighbor’s insurance pays

If your neighbor’s home or car is damaged by a healthy tree in your yard, then they should file a claim with their insurance company.

If you want to be a good neighbor, you could offer to pay your neighbor’s deductible.

When it’s your liability

There are instances where you as a homeowner could be held liable. If a tree fell on your neighbor’s home when you were trying to cut it down without professional help, the damage would be your responsibility.

Also, if the tree was dying, unstable or diseased, you could be liable if it falls over and damages your neighbor’s home.

Even if your neighbor files a claim with their insurer, the carrier may come after your insurer if it deems you were negligent in caring for your tree. This process is called subrogation.

If your neighbor’s insurer is successful in the subrogation process, they may be reimbursed for the deductible paid for the claim.

Some policies will acknowledge coverage for claims only if no negligence was involved; others will cover claims regardless of whether the policyholder has been negligent. Some policies cover only certain kinds of damage (damage to physical structures, for example, but not to the land around them).

Read your policy carefully, then check with us.

Most falls are due to storms

Most cases involve trees falling over due to storms or acts of nature, so many homeowners whose trees topple over do not have to worry about their insurers footing the bill.

Also, they don’t 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.

You should check your trees regularly and have them inspected at the first sign of disease or any health issues. You should also trim back branches that grow over the fence line.

A professional arborist can assess 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 damaged and the legal costs that ensue.

For those who plan to stay in their homes for any length of time, it is best to try to keep the peace with neighbors, so this is also a good way to prevent quarrels or ongoing problems.

If you have concerns about the potential for tree damage to your home or that of a neighbor, and whether your policy would cover the damage, give us a call.

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