Who Is Liable When a Tree Falls Onto a Neighbor's Property?

March 14, 2023

Lots of us have trees on our property. They provide shade and complement landscaping nicely, but they can also cause major disputes when they fall over.

A tree may topple over if it is not properly maintained, is 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 a tree falls over onto a neighbor's property, that person should submit a claim to their insurance company immediately. The insurer 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, windstorm or winter storm would not be the responsibility of the homeowner. Since the homeowner living on the property where the fallen tree was rooted didn't intentionally push the tree over, nature is responsible. This means that the neighbor's insurance policy should cover it.

However, there are some cases 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 and you knew about it, you could be liable if it falls over on its own.

When homeowners 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 homeowner is found liable for the damages, their homeowner's insurance policy will have to pay the damages. However, the insurer will investigate the claim and defend the homeowner if they are sued by the neighbor whose property the tree fell on if warranted.

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's policies.

Most Falls 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 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 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 or text us at 781-289-7445 or email me at dan@rizzoinsurance.com.