Who is Liable When My Neighbor’s Tree Falls?

This spring really roared in in like a lion here in New York (and most of the Northeast)- March and early April were filled with 4 major snow storms and intermittent high wind storms here in Westchester County.  After a mild winter, there were wide spread power outages and lots of fallen trees.  So we got a lot of calls and emails asking:

If my neighbor’s tree falls on my property- who is responsible for the removal?  And what if it falls on my house?  Who pays to repair it?

This is a tricky question.  So we will explore  a few scenarios:

A tree falls on your car, while you are driving it

 

This is not the way you want your day to start…

I wasn’t going to include this in the article, but I actually encountered this scary scenario recently.  A client was driving to work, in heavy wind and rain- and a tree fell and hit the car while he wad driving it.  He was thankfully shaken up, but okay.  The car however- did not fair so well and was declared a total loss.  (Actually it was close to a total loss but the Erie Insurance adjuster agreed to not force the repairs and write a check for the car’s current value.  So, this is the best outcome of a really bad situation.  Everyone was okay and Erie really did the best they could with helping the policyholder on the claim.

So if the tree hits your car-  your auto insurance would respond.  Let’s hope you’re not in it though.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ag41qzzEr8

Your neighbor’s tree falls and hits your house

On March 2nd I got many calls about claims due to the high winds but one was from a client who had only owned their home for 2.5 years and came home to find their neighbors large tree had hit their house.  She was in tears and afraid to go inside.  She was unsure of who would handle the damage and I assured her that

This is what insurance is forWe can repair houses, we can replace stuff- this is why you get home insurance.  

And in this instance her home insurance would respond to cover the damage. 

In this case, the tree falling was an act of nature.  It couldn’t be prevented.  So – unless your neighbor had a severely damaged tree that they refused to remove and you have proof that you asked them to take it down, there is no way they could prevent this from happening.  So in most instances – if the tree hits your house (regardless of who’s tree it is), your home insurance responds to cover the repairs.

If you are a new home buyer or unsure if your policy would cover this type of event check out my post about what first time homebuyers should know before buying insurance.

As my client said in the weeks after the event- “You never think this will happen to you, that these kind of things only happen in the movies.”  The damage the house is so extensive, by the way, that the repairs are estimated to be around $200,000 and they will be unable to live there for months.

So when shopping for home insurance- don’t be penny wise and pound foolish.  Make sure you talk to a trusted adviser (like me!) who can give you the coverage you need for your biggest asset.

Your neighbor’s tree falls and hits your shed or car (you are not in either)

I promise you, this is definitely not great, but not the worst thing that can happen (as long as you are not in the car or shed when the tree falls).

Again, in this instance the tree actually hit something like your shed, fence or garage- your home or auto insurance would respond to cover the damage. 

In this case, the tree falling was an act of nature.  It couldn’t be prevented.  So – again, unless your neighbor had a severely damaged tree that they refused to remove and you have proof that you asked them to take it down, there is no way they could prevent this from happening.  So in most instances – if the tree hits your shed, fence, unattached garage  (regardless of who’s tree it is), your home insurance responds to cover the repairs.

Now if the tree hits your car- you guessed it, your auto insurance would respond.  This is one of the best reasons to consider having auto and home insurance with the same company.  Generally, if you have a claim involving your house and a car, they will waive one of your deductibles and one company will be handling all of the damages.  Many of our carriers will not hit you with two deductibles if you have damage to your house and car and both polices are “bundled” with the same carrier.  Then- there are the discounts of course!  Want to learn more?  Check out my ideas on getting the best rate on auto insurance!

Best case: Your neighbor’s tree falls and lands in your yard

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

I think it does make a sound, even if no one hears it.
But regardless of the sound debate; if a tree falls in your yard and doesn’t hit or damage anything your home insurance generally will not cover the removal.

‘This is so unfair, what do i pay for home insurance for?’ you say.

Think about this: Home insurance is intended to cover damage to your home (that is why its called homeowners insurance).  It is not covering damage to your lawn or yard (which is why it is not called yard insurance).  There are some extensions of coverage which companies throw in, but really if a tree falls (even if due to a storm or heavy snow, etc.)- its a property maintenance situation.

This is what I like to call ‘the joy of home-ownership’.  Yes, there is a lot of pride with owning your house, but there are also maintenance items and unforeseen expenses around every corner.  Yard maintenance and expenses are one reason to consider a condo or coop! LOL

When a tree falls over onto a neighbor’s property, that neighbor should submit a claim to his or her insurance company immediately. The insurance company 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, wind storm or winter storm would not be the responsibility of the homeowner. Since the homeowner living on the property where the fallen tree was rooted did not intentionally push the tree over, nature is responsible.

Your neighbor cuts down their own tree and  it falls and lands on your home

If the tree fell on the neighbor’s home when the homeowner was trying to cut down the tree without professional help, the damage would be the homeowner’s responsibility. Also, if the tree was dying, unstable or diseased and the homeowner knew about it, he or she could be liable if it falls over on its own. He or she could also be liable if it falls over during a very light storm that would not normally knock over a tree. 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 liable for the damages, his or her personal insurance company will have to pay the damages. The insurer will have to also investigate the claim and defend the homeowner if he or she is sued by the neighbor whose property the tree fell on. If the homeowner being sued loses, his or her 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 policies.

Most cases involve trees falling over due to storms or acts of nature, so many homeowners whose trees fall over do not have to worry about their insurers footing the bill. Also, they do not 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. Homeowners should check their trees regularly and have them inspected at the first sign of disease or any health issues.

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 destroyed 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 peace with neighbors, so this is also a good way to prevent quarrels or ongoing problems.

Next Steps: Want to discuss your insurance needs to make sure you are properly covered?  Please give us a shout, we are happy to help!

So…. if you are still confused (or maybe even more confused!), and want to talk with an expert who can walk you through your options…. lets set a time to chat!

Or shoot me an email if that’s more your style- Nicole@thejohnsagency.com.

I speak insurance, so you don’t have to!

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