There are 228 billion trees in the United States, according to a study led by Crowther Thomas of Yale University. Although many of these trees have lived for hundreds or even thousands of years, high winds, heavy rains, and disease can force them to fall.
When a tree or a tree branch falls, homeowners are often left wondering who is at fault for any damage that results.
Who owns the tree?
Who’s responsible for the damage caused by a fallen tree largely depends on who owns the tree.
Generally speaking, if the trunk of the tree is on your property, then you own the tree—even if most of the tree’s canopy hangs over your neighbor’s property line.
On the other hand, if the trunk of the tree is on your neighbor’s property, then your neighbor owns the tree—even if most of the canopy hangs over your property line.
Often, trees are planted directly on the line between adjoining properties. These trees, appropriately called “boundary trees,” are typically the common property of both landowners.
Who is responsible for fallen tree damage?
Every state has a statute that governs liability regarding fallen trees.
In most states, the owner of the tree is NOT liable for damage caused by the fallen tree if the tree fell as a result of a so-called “act of God.” For example, if your healthy oak tree fell onto your neighbor’s garage due to a snowstorm or wind storm, you’re not liable for the damages.
On the other hand, if your actions or neglect contributed to the tree falling, then you’re probably responsible for the resulting damage. For example, if your tree fell onto your neighbor’s garage because you were trying to cut it down without professional help, you’re responsible for the damages.
Similarly, you have a duty to eliminate the reasonably foreseeable danger a tree may pose to your adjoining property. So, if your tree falls onto your neighbor’s garage because it was dying, unstable, or diseased, and you knew or should have known it was dying, unstable, or diseased, you’re responsible for the damages.
Courts will typically consider the following factors when trying to determine whether a tree poses a reasonably foreseeable danger to adjoining property:
- Whether the tree was dead or visibly dying
- Whether the tree leaned prominently toward the adjacent property
- Whether limbs of the tree extended far across the property line
- Whether limbs of the tree extended over where cars were parked or other structures existed
Will an insurance company cover the damage caused by a fallen tree?
When a tree falls onto your neighbor’s property through no fault of your own, your neighbor should submit a claim to their homeowner’s insurance company. Their insurance company will be responsible for taking care of the damages.
If a tree falls onto your neighbor’s property due to your negligence, your homeowner’s insurance company will cover the damages in most cases. As a result, you should file a claim or have your neighbor file a claim with your homeowner’s insurance company. Your insurance company will also defend you if your neighbor sues you as a result of the tree falling.
Remember that you may be personally liable for any damages that exceed your liability limits.
Will an insurance company replace the tree or cover the cost of removing the tree?
If a tree falls down and doesn’t cause any damage, homeowner’s insurance policies typically won’t cover the cost of removing or replacing the tree. There may be an exception if the tree creates an obstacle for drivers (for example, if the tree falls on the road or across a driveway).
The best way to avoid potential liability due to a tree falling is to have a professional arborist look at your trees periodically to see if any special treatment, pruning, or complete removal is necessary.