I think this may be one of the most frequently asked questions recently given all the trees and branches that have fallen due to Storm Sandy and the subsequent Nor'easter that dumped the heavy wet snow on us.
As a general rule in our state, the owner of the car or house damaged by a neighbor's fallen tree must look to their own insurance company to file a property damage claim. So, beleive it or not, if your neighbor's tree or limb fell damaging your car or house you would file a claim with your own insurance company.
However, if your neighbor was negligent in the inspection, care and maintenance of the tree or limb that fell, you may be able to pursue a liability claim against your neighbor's insurance company. To prove that your neighbor was negligent you would have to show that your neighbor was aware that the tree or limb was damaged or decayed posing a risk, and that they failed to take any corrective action to remove the damaged or decayed tree or limb. You may also be able to show that your neighbor was negligent by proving that a reasonable routine inspection of the tree would have revealed the damage or decay, and that they failed to do such an inspection. This would likely require an expert opinion from an arborist or other tree professional stating that an inspection would have shown the damage or decay.
Moreover, as with any negligence case, you would be dealing with a percentage of liability (fault) depending upon how strong your proof is that your neighbor knew or should have known of the tree damage or decay. Obviously, if you had sent your neighbor a letter prior to the tree or limb falling advising them of the damage, decay or risk, or if you took photos before the fall depicting the condition of the tree, you would have a much higher likelihood of success with your claim.
Of course you should always read your insurance policy to see what the policy language says about the coverage your insurance company provides for damages sustained to your house or car.
To find storm related assistance, to see what you may be eligible for, to apply for assistance, or to check on the status of your application, you can go to www.disasterassistance.gov.
If you have any questions, you can send me an e-mail and I will do my best to answer them.
Mark T. Freeley, Esq. - www.NorthShoreInjuryLawyer.com