Who’s responsible for damage from a fallen tree?

A big storm comes up and knocks down a tree in Bob’s yard. It falls over the property line and damages his neighbor Janet’s car. Is he legally liable for the damage?

As with much in the law, it depends. Generally, though, Bob would be responsible if he knew the tree was in danger of causing damage to Janet’s property, or if a reasonable person in his position would have noticed the danger. For instance, Bob might be responsible if the tree was dead or dying and was leaning precariously over Janet’s driveway, or if Janet had complained to him previously that tree limbs were falling onto her parking space.

On the other hand, if the tree appeared healthy, and it was a total surprise that a hurricane or tornado blew it some distance onto Janet’s yard, Bob probably wouldn’t be liable.

In any event, Janet’s first step should probably be to file a claim with her insurance company.

If you’re a property owner, it’s a good idea to check your trees periodically to see if any of them poses a danger. Falling trees can cause serious personal injuries that are a lot more expensive than a car repair.

If you feel that a neighbor’s trees are a danger to you, and your neighbor won’t do anything about the problem, you have a number of legal options. You might be able to report the dangerous condition to the city, or to a utility company (if the tree is endangering utility equipment), or possibly sue the neighbor for allowing a nuisance. You might also be able to trim the part of the tree that overhangs your property, although you’re generally not allowed to trim the part that’s on your neighbor’s property.

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