If Neighbor's Tree Falls on My Property Who Is Responsible?
Trees and plants are a beautiful addition to your yard. But trees grow and mature and can start to get out of hand if not properly maintained. If they fall and damage something or someone, ultimately, you must pay if the tree was healthy. But, if the tree was unhealthy, your neighbor must pay for damages it caused and for tree removal.
So how should you handle things if a tree or large branch falls on your yard or house?
Neighbor's Tree Fell in My Yard
Imagine the scene. It has been a stormy night, and you wake up to find your neighbor's tree lying in your yard. Now what?
If the tree has fallen due to a storm, it is not your neighbor's fault - mother nature did it. Even if that tree were initially standing in your neighbor's yard, in this case, you must file a claim on your homeowners insurance.
If a neighbor's tree falls but causes no damage, you are also responsible for cleaning up the mess and removing the tree.
Following your claim, your insurer may attempt reimbursement from your neighbor's insurance company using a process called subrogation. If your insurer succeeds and the neighbor's insurer pays, your insurer will reimburse you for the deductible you paid on your claim.
Your insurer must prove your neighbor was negligent and did not tend to an unhealthy or risky tree. Your neighbor is liable if you and they can prove the following.
- The Tree was Dying. If the tree was dying and was in danger of falling, and your neighbor did not remove the tree.
- Tree Maintenance. If they were trying to cut down the tree without professional help and the tree fell.
- Termite Damage. Your neighbor is responsible for removing infestations, which put a tree at risk, not to mention the risk of those termites traveling into your home.
- Dry Rot or Wet Rot. Your neighbor is responsible for maintaining the health of their trees, which can put a tree at risk.
- At-Risk Trees. In past storms, your neighbor's tree may have broken a large branch that did not fall from the tree. That leaves the risk that the branch could fall and cause damage. Your neighbor would be liable for his neglect.
It helps your insurer's subrogation case immensely if you have documentation about your neighbor's at-risk trees. Pictures, videos, and an old letter asking the neighbor to repair or remove a tree or branch strengthen your insurance company's chance of recovering expenses that you and your insurer paid.
Chances of Trees Falling on a House
Fallen trees are the leading cause of roof damage, according to the National Storm Damage Center.
If trees surround your property, the chances are you will encounter tree damages at some point. However, the risk reduces when the trees are well cared for and maintained.
Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Fallen Trees?
If the tree was not dying or knowingly at-risk and in danger of falling, then yes, your homeowner insurance covers fallen trees. If you were negligent in caring for a tree, it is not covered.
Here is a closer look at fallen trees and your insurance coverage.
- Dwelling. If a tree or branch falls and damages your home, you have coverage from your homeowners insurance, providing the fall resulted from covered perils, and the tree was healthy when it fell. These perils include storms, fire, lightning, and more. (See the above image).
Your insurer pays the replacement cost value (RCV) of your home's damage, which means no depreciation gets deducted. But you must pay your deductible, and the claim amount cannot exceed your dwelling coverage amount.
- Other Structures. Your homeowners insurance should include other structures. Other structures relate to a fence, detached garage, or shed. If a tree falls and damages one of these structures, your policy pays for the repairs.
Standard home insurance usually has an "other structures" coverage limit of 10% of your dwelling coverage amount. It pays RCV, minus your deductible.
- Personal Property. The tree may fall and damage a portable structure, an above-ground pool, for example. In this instance, your personal property coverage would pay the cost of repairs.
Coverage limits are 30 - 70% of your dwelling amount, and the property gets valued using actual cost value (ACV), which deducts depreciation. You must pay your deductible prior to receiving a claim payment.
- Personal Liability. What happens if a branch or tree falls and injures a visitor or their property? Your personal liability insurance covers the cost of a lawsuit if they sue you. It also pays for any medical bills and repairs to their damaged property if that is included in the lawsuit.
Your personal liability coverage limit is whatever amount you bought, usually from $100,000 to $300,000, and it pays at RCV.
- Medical Liability. What if a visitor gets injured due to the fallen tree, but the guest does not sue you? This coverage applies in that case. For example, your neighbor's kid climbs a tree, and an old branch breaks, also breaking the kid's arm in the fall.
Your medical liability coverage limit is up to $5,000, and it pays at RCV.
Tree Falls on the Road — Who Is Responsible?
The law does not consider you liable if a tree falls on the road or other property unless it had noticeable damage or was unhealthy. Therefore, if local officials or an injured civilian can prove your negligence, they could attempt to recover their expenses from you in court.
You could be proven negligent if someone had given you a warning in the past to remove, repair, or trim the tree. Or, if the risks were known to you or otherwise evident, you are liable under a legal term called constructive notice.
Constructive notice means a tree or branch is dangerous and had signs of defects, decay, or other issues easily observable by anyone from the ground or that a reasonable inspection would have exposed.
Generally, although your tree falls in the road, the maintenance responsibility usually gets handled by the city and whoever manages the road.
- State Roads. Main thoroughfares are state roads. The Department of Transportation has the responsibility of removing trees from the street.
- City Roads. The local government looks after city roads. They would clear the fallen tree.
- County Road. The local county maintains these roads.
- Town Roads. These roads are usually more minor side roads looked after by the town.
If a Tree Falls on City Power Lines — Who Is Responsible?
The electric utility company that owns the powers line has that responsibility. So, if a tree falls on their line, they must make the repairs and restore power.
It is the utility company's responsibility to trim trees close to power lines. This obligation usually applies to pole-to-pole power lines and not lines that connect to a person's home. The trees near those lines are the responsibility of the homeowner.
During a Storm, a Tree Falls on Your Vehicle
So, what happens if a tree falls and misses your property but falls on your car instead? Let's look at three different scenarios.
- My Neighbor's Tree Fell on My Car. If the tree fell following a storm, your neighbor is not responsible. Unless, of course, the tree was dead, at-risk, unhealthy, and liable to fall at any time. You can claim on your auto insurance if you have comprehensive coverage, and they may attempt to recover the claim money from your neighbor's home insurance.
Failing that, you may be able to claim through your home insurance for tree removal only.
- My Tree Fell on My Car. The same applies here. If it is your tree and your car, then you pay for the costs. Your insurer will not cover expenses if you only have minimum auto insurance coverage. Comprehensive coverage should cover the damage, or try your dwelling insurance.
- My Tree Fell on My Neighbor's Car. If one of the healthy trees on your property falls on your neighbor's car during a storm, you are not responsible. Your neighbor may not be happy about it, but they must claim on their auto insurance. Most likely, the neighbor's insurance will file a subrogation claim with your insurer.
Or they can try to claim through their home insurance.
What Can I Do If My Neighbor Refuses to Let Me File a Claim against Their Insurance?
Even if the fallen tree belonged to your neighbor, you must claim on your homeowner insurance.
Your insurance carrier will do its best to recover the costs from your neighbor's insurer through the subrogation process. This work is what claims departments do — you should leave it to them.
For more advice about fallen tree insurance, you can speak to our licensed insurance agents, who can explain more about the process.
For a free, no-obligation insurance quote, we are happy to help.
Hope that helps!
At your service,