When a tree falls there can be resulting damages both for the property owner and, potentially, neighboring property owners.

A common question is who is responsible for any resulting damages if a tree falls on a neighboring property?

The answer, which often surprises people, is each affected property owner would typically be responsible for damages to their own property.

The reason for this is a tree falling is considered an act of god – an unforeseen event the property owner could not have predicted or reasonably been expected to take action to safeguard against.

There is an exception to this rule, although qualifying for the exception requires specific action be taken beforehand by a neighboring property owner.

If a tree is clearly dead or dying and poses an imminent hazard to a neighboring property and the owner of the property where the tree is located has been advised of this, requested to take action to prevent damage, and fails to do so within a reasonable period of time they would be liable for any resulting damages if the tree should then fall.

The key in that situation is the concerned neighboring property owner has to be able to prove they notified, in writing, the property owner of the hazard and that property owner then failed to take action in a timely fashion to prevent damage.

What is a reasonable period of time? That’s a little more subjective, but clearly you can’t hear a weather report that there will be high winds within the next few days, jot on a scrap of paper “Do somethin’ ’bout your tree!”, slap the note on the neighbor’s door, and expect they are then responsible if their tree falls within a day or two and damages your property. The property owner would need some reasonable period of time to have the hazardous tree removed.

The benefit of taking action, when a neighbor’s tree poses a hazard to your property, is – first and foremost – hopefully by doing so you can avoid any damages resulting from a hazardous tree falling on your property.

If the neighbor doesn’t take action and the tree falls you can also potentially avoid significant expenses as the neighbor would then be responsible for the damages. Even if you own insurance may otherwise have responded you would have been responsible for any applicable deductible(s) and filing a claim against your own insurance may also increase your rates.

See our related blog “What happens when a tree falls?” for additional information detailing which policy responds and what to expect from your insurance when a downed tree causes damages.

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