By: Robert B. George, Esquire
If you are like me, you have one or more trees on your property, some of which may be rather large and intimidating. While providing shade and complementing the surrounding landscape, these trees can also cause major disputes if they should fall onto and cause damage to a neighbor’s home and/or property.
A tree may fall over if it is not properly maintained, diseased, or due to a storm, such as many of you may have experience during the recent bout of severe weather in the area – myself included. When a tree falls over onto a neighbor’s property, a homeowner is often left to wonder if he or she is liable. Most people assume that they are liable since it is their tree; however, this is not always the case.
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 the damages; this is true if the tree fell over due to an act of nature, also commonly referred to as an “Act of God”. 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. This means that the neighbor’s insurance policy should cover it under perils. However, there are some cases where a homeowner could be held liable. If, for example, a tree fell on the neighbor’s home when the homeowner was trying to cut it down, the damage would be the homeowner’s responsibility. Also, if a tree was dying, unstable or diseased and the homeowner knew about it, he or she could be liable. 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 should be responsible. The insurer will also have to investigate the claim, and defend the homeowner if he or she is sued by the neighbor whose property the tree fell upon. If the homeowner being sued loses, his or her insurer will be expected to pay up to the policy limit for damages. For any further damages beyond that, the homeowner may find him or herself financially responsible. Neighbors can also submit liability claims against homeowner policies.
Most cases involve healthy trees falling over due to storms or other acts of nature, so many homeowners do not have to worry about their insurer paying for any related damages and/or expenses. In some cases, however, neighbors may still try to sue to recover their deductibles, if applicable. The best way to avoid this situation is to prevent it in the first place. In that regard, homeowners should inspect their trees regularly, and take any necessary remedial action at the first sign of disease or other health issues, as well as any indications that a tree may be at risk of falling.
It is highly recommended that a tree professional be sought out to analyze any trees that may be of concern in order to see if it needs any special treatments or complete removal. While this may seem like an unnecessary expense, it is much less expensive than the potential cost of paying for a neighbor’s home or other valuable property, as well as the possible legal costs that may be incurred should a lawsuit be commenced.
If you find yourself involved in a situation involving a fallen tree on your property, it is important that you consult with an attorney who has experience with this kind of issue.
The Law Firm of DiOrio & Sereni, LLP is a full-service law firm in Media, Delaware County, Pennsylvania. We strive to help people, businesses and institutions throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania solve legal problems – and even prevent legal problems before they occur. To learn more about the full range of our specific practice areas, please visit www.dioriosereni.com or contact Robert B. George, Esquire at 610-565-5700 or at rgeorge @dioriosereni.com.