Tree falls on my neighbor’s yard; do I have to pay for it?

We’ve all heard the story in the movies of that time a tree fell on someone’s house, yard, or car, but does it realistically happen? Short answer is yes and it happens more often than you may think. We wanted to take the time and discuss some of the options that you have if this were to happen to you. Here are several situations to take care of in this situation, financially:

  • Destruction /damage of own property
  • Destruction /damage of the neighbor’s property
  • Clean up of own property
  • Clean up of neighbor’s property
  • Medical and other liabilities

When the fallen tree causes destruction or damage to the owner’s property itself, then the expenses for repair and recovery will have to be borne by his Homeowner’s Insurance policy up to the limit of the expected coverage amount. Along with the damage to a structure, the cost to clean up and removing the debris may also be covered in the same policy. However, if the tree does not cause any damage to a structure, the clean-up and debris removal cost is typically the owner’s expense. Similarly, the medical and other liabilities (example: damage to the owner’s car by a fallen branch) that concerns the owner’s premises will have to be taken care of by the owner’s health/life insurance, Homeowner’s insurance policy and/or car insurance policy, as and when applicable.

The tricky situation comes up when the tree falls down on a neighbor’s property. The thumb rule for finding out the payer party is this:

Who pays for what portion of the expenses is determined by where the tree falls. Typically, wherever the tree has landed, the owner of that property is responsible for tackling it irrespective of the original ownership of the tree.

So, if a hurricane or other high wind fells a tree on the neighbor’s house or other ancillary parts (such as a patio, fence, garage etc.), the neighbor’s homeowner’s insurance policy would cover the damage to his property. Legally, this is to be considered an act of God and not something that can be controlled by humans. Hence the tree owner is not responsible for paying for the damages to his neighboring properties.

At the same time, the cost to remove the tree and the debris resulting from its fall is to be covered by that neighbor’s insurance only, if permitted in the policy limits. However, once again, for most policies, the insurance policy may not offer any assistance if the tree did not cause any damage to the home itself. In that case, all the expenses related to clean up and debris removals are liability for the neighbor himself.

Similarly, the medical and other liabilities like damage to a car or business equipment would also be upon the neighbor only. Depending on the car’s damage, both his homeowner’s insurance and his optional comprehensive coverage (if available under his auto insurance policy) could provide coverage for the loss. The original owner of the tree or his personal insurance policies should not be held responsible for coughing up the payments.

There is also an exception to the thumb rule stated above. It is called Negligence.

If the tree fell as a result of negligence or a maintenance-related issue on the owner’s part and the suffering neighbor can prove it viably, then the liability rests upon the tree owner for the damages. If any fallen tree was clearly dead or dying, the owner of the tree then becomes responsible for the damage. The damaged home’s owner may even file a lawsuit against the dead tree’s owner to recoup all losses as an extreme step.

An attentive tree owner should always look out for signs of ageing or other problems in the trees on his property to avoid further liability and hassles if any of the trees fell on others’ properties.

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