When the tree falls, who pays?

The relationship between you and your neighbor is one of the most sensitive unchosen relationships you will encounter in life.  It is likely neither of you conducted interviews prior to the purchase of your home so you are pretty much stuck with the person next door, for better or worse.  Hopefully this relationship is relatively free from strain but one disaster is always looming, ready to tear your fragile coupling apart.  The neighbor’s tree falls on your property or vice versa.  The question both of you are now asking is who pays?

There are three possible outcomes to this unfortunate event,

  1. You Pay
  2. Your Neighbor Pays
  3. You Both Pay

Depending on the condition of the tree and communication between you and your neighbor either 1, 2 or 3 could be correct. Most Homeowners insurance policies cover damage to your fence and home from a falling tree subject to the deductible you have selected. Therefore, the question of who pays will most likely involve both your homeowner’s insurance company and your neighbor’s depending on the situation.  Also, a deductible will have to be paid. Let’s examine three situations involving a tree falling.

Your neighbor’s healthy tree falls on your house.

If the tree is truly healthy and shows no signs of disease or dead limbs, then your neighbor will not be considered negligent. Therefore your insurance company should pay to repair the damage to your house. Of course this means that you have had to pay a deductible of $1000 or higher depending on your policy. This seems unfair since it was not your fault but unfortunately this is how it will typically play out if there are no extenuating circumstances. But let’s see what happens in the next case.

Your healthy tree falls on your neighbor’s house.

In this situation your neighbor’s homeowners insurance company should pay to repair the damage caused by your healthy tree. Just as in the previous case, the deductible will have to be paid by the homeowner. Perhaps, you really like your neighbor and even though you are not “negligent” you can offer to pay your neighbor’s deductible or split the cost. Or, perhaps now is a good time (before a tree falls) to discuss this with your neighbors and decide that if a healthy tree falls each neighbor will pay their own deductible.

Your neighbor’s un-healthy tree falls on your house.

If your neighbor knew, or should have known that the tree was diseased and failed to have it removed, then you may recover the damage to your home from your neighbor or your neighbor’s insurance company. The key issue; “Did you put your neighbor on notice that the tree was a hazard to you and your property?” If you had noticed that the tree was diseased and notified your neighbor in writing, then your chances of collecting the full cost of repair are better although not guaranteed. Presented with a copy of the letter, your neighbor’s insurance company will have less of a defense to deny the claim from you or your insurance company. However, if they are reluctant, your own insurance company will pay for the repair (less your deductible) and then attempt to collect from your neighbor’s insurance company (including your deductible).

So what should you do now?

We always recommend having an arborist come to your home and review the health of your trees (and those around you) AT LEAST once every three years if not more frequently.  If they find any problematic trees you should address the issue as soon as feasible.  The arborist will also be able to recommend basic trimming and maintenance that can help your trees remain healthy and less likely to fall victim to a strong gust of wind.  Don’t forget, although we can get caught up and frustrated about who is responsible, ultimately our goal is to avoid the situation altogether because nothing is more important than the safety of our loved ones.

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