Who's at fault for a fallen tree?
August 20, 2009 3:59 PM   Subscribe

Fallen tree filter: Who's responsible and does home owner's insurance factor in?

My boyfriend woke up this morning to a fallen tree from a neighbor's yard on his garage. It put a hole in the roof and took down some power lines. No one I know has had any experience with this sort of thing so I was wondering if anyone else has? Is it the neighbor's responsibly to have it removed? Will their home owner's insurance cover this? We're at a total loss of who to call and what to do, thanks! Oh and we're in Virginia if that matters.
posted by MaryDellamorte to Law & Government (17 answers total)
i would think the neighbor is incharge of removing it. I would have your booyfriend either cal la lawyer of his home owners insurance to ask.
posted by majortom1981 at 4:03 PM on August 20, 2009

The person who owns the property the tree was growing on is almost always responsible for damage done by a falling tree. Their homeowners insurance will almost always cover this. They should contact their agent or insurer.
posted by dersins at 4:09 PM on August 20, 2009

I've heard some people say that home owner's insurance should cover it and I've had people tell me that it doesn't but none of these people have had any personal experience with the matter.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 4:10 PM on August 20, 2009

Laws probably vary from state to state, but I think this is considered an Act of God, and not something the neighbor is responsible for. Exceptions would be if the tree were visibly dead, if you had mentioned it as a potential problem to the neighbor, that sort of thing. Otherwise I believe it is on your dime.

Power lines are the public utility's wicket of course. I suppose if you really wanted to get creative you could argue that they should have cut back that tree to prevent it from tearing down the powerlines (which I believe they have the right and responsibility to do).

A limb fell from one of my trees on a neighbor's car and knocked the sideview mirror off of it. My insurer said in short "not your fault."
posted by adamrice at 4:12 PM on August 20, 2009

The liability provision of your neighbor's homeowner's insurance should cover it unless it is specifically excluded. The only way to know whether it's excluded is to look at the policy.
posted by dersins at 4:14 PM on August 20, 2009

Adamrice, my boyfriend says that parts of the tree are dead, do you think this will make a difference?
posted by MaryDellamorte at 4:20 PM on August 20, 2009

"The person who owns the property the tree was growing on is almost always responsible for damage done by a falling tree. Their homeowners insurance will almost always cover this. They should contact their agent or insurer."

Unfortunately this is not correct. Unless there was previously good reason to believe the tree to be a hazard, it's considered an Act Of Nature and there is no liability on the owner nor their homeowner's insurance.

I learned this the hard way a couple of months ago, when an oak totaled my car.
posted by anadem at 4:50 PM on August 20, 2009

Where I live, we have pine trees, which have a tap root and so they come down pretty easily. Our newspaper has a column written by a lawyer, and he answers questions submitted to him. He covers stuff like this all the time. Here's one article with a roundup of questions, in which he looks at quite a few variables of the downed-tree issue. Maybe it's helpful to you; I'm not sure if it does/doesn't apply in Virginia.
posted by Houstonian at 5:03 PM on August 20, 2009

Anadem is correct. Falling trees are considered Acts of God. The neighbour is not liable. You would need to claim against your own insurance (usually there will be cover for 'impact'). The only exception to this if a tree expert (an arborist) had come out and said that this tree is a safety issue and will soon fall, or drop limbs.

You can ask your neighbour to deal with a tree but if they don't do anything and it falls and causes you damage then you take the hit.

p.s. All of the above is true in Australia where I have experience. It may be different in foreign legislatures. But probably not.
posted by Sitegeist at 5:05 PM on August 20, 2009

And also just to clear up a common misconception, the neighbours insurance policy is their policy. They are the ones who choose to use it and not you. You can try to hold them liable for something and they may then decide to bring in their insurance cover but that is their decision. Your only available action is to try to hold them liable. Or claim against your own insurance. Believe me, if your insurance company then believes they can recover costs from your neighbour they will.
posted by Sitegeist at 5:17 PM on August 20, 2009

Simply call your agent and ask. She will tell you whose liability it is and if it is worth putting in a claim to your ins co. Your ins co. will ask his co. if it is their responsibility. Take lots of digital pictures of the roof, the limb, the rest of the tree etc. THey will come in handy later.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 5:33 PM on August 20, 2009

my mom's tulip poplar dropped a huge branch through the roof and dash of a mazda totalling it and her homeowner's insurance covered it. it was also hung up on the powerline and the power company's policy makes clear that they don't believe they have responsibility for trees that may grow into their easement (they just happily cut them back).
posted by pappy at 5:36 PM on August 20, 2009

We had the neighbor's 5 cedar trees fall on our fence into our back yard. Very messy. Their homeowners insurance called it "an act of God" and told us to contact OUR agent. Our insurance covered everything-- the fence, tree removal, the smooshed picnic table, and playhouse.
posted by Acacia at 6:27 PM on August 20, 2009

In some places, the local government technically owns the land within a certain distance of the street, and all the trees on it. If the tree is close to the street, they might remove the tree for free (but I don't suppose they would cover damage to the garage).
posted by k. at 7:01 PM on August 20, 2009

We had an issue a few years ago where a branch from a tree on our property fell onto the roof of a neighbor's shed, knocking off some of the shingles. She expected our insurance company to cover it. I spoke to my boss at the time (a residential real estate attorney) and he said no, contrary to what one would think, it falls on the insurance of the owner of the damaged property.

For what it's worth, we are in New York State.
posted by Lucinda at 7:14 PM on August 20, 2009

Here's an update, he went up on the roof to check out the damage and he said that it's something that he can fix himself which takes care of that. He called his insurance company and they told him since the tree fell across the alley, that the county is responsible for getting the tree removed since the alley is public property. I'm assuming this will take care of the part that's also leaning up on his garage. So we'll see how it all pans out I guess.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 9:38 PM on August 20, 2009

Our experience:

Tree on city parkway fell over into our living room. Hooray! City paid for removal, insurance paid for new roof.

Tree in our backyard fell on our garage and neighbor's fence. Minimal damage to garage, big dent in (metal) fence. Garage damage under deductible, no pay. Fence damage would be paid by neighbor's insurance, but claim made through ours (?), neighbor elected not to fix fence as it's not really hurting the functioning of the fence. Tree removal $800, insurance paid $400 and then raised our rates $250 per year, forever. I really wish I had not called the insurance company.
posted by nax at 5:52 AM on August 21, 2009

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