What is our liability for a fallen tree?
June 12, 2010 3:43 PM   Subscribe

What is our liability for a fallen tree?

We've had a great windstorm today. It caused a a large part of a tree on our property to break off and fall onto the road, blocking both lanes. Before we started sawing up the tree, I took a photo of the tree across the road. We were out cleaning it up when a woman drove up and said she had driven by earlier and the tree had fallen on her car. The windshield of her car was broken and there were leaves of the same species of tree stuck in her car. She didn't seem injured. She asked if we would be willing to verify for her insurance company that the tree had indeed fallen. I can verify that the tree had indeed fallen, but I can't say that the tree had fallen on her car since I didn't see it happen. I said I would email her the photograph of the tree across the street.

What should I do here? What are we liable for? It is a mistake verify the fallen tree for her insurance company? To send her the photo?
posted by allelopath to Law & Government (11 answers total)
SHE is responsible for proving that your tree fell on her car. If she can do that, then you both should contact your insurance companies (car and house, respectively), and let them duke it out. Until she can prove it, I would not be sending her that photo.
posted by wwartorff at 3:51 PM on June 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

You should talk to a competent attorney in your jurisdiction to make sure that you wouldn't be exposing yourself to undue liability by cooperating. Laws regarding trees, insurance, and liability for such things all vary from state to state.
posted by jedicus at 4:01 PM on June 12, 2010

Yeah, contact your homeowners insurance company right away (they'll be able to tell you your liability) and don't say anything to this lady or her insurance company. Scam factor here seems pretty high.
posted by puritycontrol at 4:03 PM on June 12, 2010

YES it's a mistake to verify anything or to send her anything without talking to your insurance company first. Ask them what to do. Because sending her photos, verifying anything, etc, may be taken as admission of what happened.
posted by Justinian at 4:05 PM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

When her car got damaged, it was HER responsibility to document what damaged it. She should have stopped and either called in a police report, waiting for a police officer to arrive and document it, or taken pictures to document it herself and called in a police report with the address after the fact.

In my opinion, and I am not a lawyer, an insurance adjuster from your home insurance company would tell her to go piss up a rope ... unless you in some way admit it, i.e. by sending her a picture of the tree, giving them a location tied to you and your name and other information. Otherwise, all she has is your address, which she could've gotten by driving around until she found a tree of the same kind that she'd hit earlier.
posted by SpecialK at 4:08 PM on June 12, 2010

This is a weird area of the law, and the rules aren't just going to be different state to state, but city to city and even block to block -- if the tree was in the parkway (that little strip between the side walk and the street), it may or may not have been your tree, sometimes it is the city's tree and some cities don't like you pruning them for instance. However, your in luck (probably because your homeowner's insurance should provide you with a lawyer who can determine whose tree it was, and to argue about whether it was properly maintained (if it was that, i think, should limit you liability and but this into the 'act of God' area for the lady with the car.)

And also, some stranger just happened to be going by when the tree fell and just happened to be going by when you were cleaning up a fallen tree?? She has a big burden of proof here, before you need worry about how well the tree was kept, but it is still your insurance that should deal with her.
posted by Some1 at 4:16 PM on June 12, 2010

Okay, i agree with the gist of what everyone is saying, but not the idea of telling her nothing. Your tree did fall into the street. Give her your name and address and let her give that info to her insurance company. That's the decent thing to do. It's like being in a car accident -- whether or not you think you were at fault, you give the other driver your basic info.
posted by BlahLaLa at 4:17 PM on June 12, 2010

What others have said about the law varying from one place to another is true. In general, you are not liable unless you were informed of a problem or would have been insane to not notice a problem that would likely cause failure, and negligence is harder to prove for a regular schmuck. I'd also agree that you should inform your insurance company immediately and let them take care of it, though I can't see how you sending an email of a photo opens you to liability. Well, I suppose I can imagine it, actually; this is a litigious society. If it becomes a big deal, you may be able to get some specific information about the tree laws for your state from here (for a price, of course—but this guy knows his shit).
posted by Red Loop at 4:51 PM on June 12, 2010

Just because its your tree doesn't make this your fault. As Some1, and Red Loop have said this is a really strange area of law, where frequently you have to be negligent in your care for the tree in someway for you to be responsible.

Check with your insurance and let her insurance deal with your homeowners. Outside of exchanging your relevant information you don't have to deal with this person.
posted by bitdamaged at 7:23 PM on June 12, 2010

A tree totaled my car last year, but neither the tree owner's insurance nor my car insurance were liable - there was zero insurance payout because it was "an act of nature"; this was in Santa Cruz county, California.
posted by anadem at 9:41 PM on June 12, 2010

Thanks for all the responses. We did absolutely nothing. We never heard from the woman again.
posted by allelopath at 9:53 PM on July 17, 2010

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