Tree Fall Liability: Who Is Responsible for Property Damage? Part 3

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A student asks

A branch from my neighbor's tree fell into my yard and damaged my boat. He claims he isn't liable to cover any of the damages, what can I do?

A tree falling is considered an act of God or nature. Usually, the tree owner is not held accountable, which does tend to be counter-intuitive in many cases. The exceptions would be:

  1. If the tree or limb was obviously rotted or damaged so that the risk of it falling was obvious. Then the owner has an obligation to correct it.
  2. If you had pointed out the weakened tree or limb to the owner and he did not investigate it and deal with it if the danger panned out.

You could try filing a claim with your homeowners’ insurance. You can also have an arborist inspect the tree (and hopefully you still have the limb). The arborist can assess whether or not it was obvious that the limb was damaged/weakened and in danger of falling. If so, you could have a case.

But when your neighbor's tree falls on your roof, you'll care—and want to know whose homeowner’s insurance will pay.

The short answer: Tap your own coverage. Make a claim through your insurer for tree damages to your property, even if the tree was rooted in your neighbor's yard.

Why? "If the neighbor's tree falls on your house, it's your problem," says Gary Blackwell, an independent insurance agent based in Corinth, Maine. Your insurer may reimburse you for repairs to damaged structures, such as your home and a detached garage, and for removing debris—minus the deductible. (Your neighbor isn't legally responsible for reimbursing your deductible; you could sue to recover that amount, but it's not a sure bet.)

What If Your Tree Does Damage Next Door?

In the opposite case—a tree from your yard causes damage to the property next door—it's up to your neighbor to put in a claim with his or her insurer.

Could the situation get thornier, so to speak, if the tree was visibly unhealthy or diseased before falling? Could you be responsible for paying for damages because of your neglect in maintaining it?

John Bailly, a personal injury attorney at the firm of Bailly and McMillan, based in White Plains, N.Y., says no. You're still covered.

"The homeowner's carrier cannot disclaim for neglect," Bailly says. That is, it must pay your neighbor regardless of your neglect.

Hope this helps


Jerry Royse, at the helm of Royse and Associates, stands out in real estate education with over 35 years of experience teaching across 46 states and 5 countries. A seasoned educator, Jerry has trained thousands in Sales Pre-Licensing and Continuing Education, also applying his expertise as an expert witness in over 30 legal cases and successfully closing over 1100 homes as a Buyer Broker. His extensive knowledge marks him as a preeminent expert in the field.

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