Damage From A Neighbor's Tree Due To The Storm...Who Is Responsible?

Whose insurance company is responsible for the damage caused by my neighbor's tree that fell?

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.

Stay safe.

Mark T. Freeley, Esq. - www.NorthShoreInjuryLawyer.com

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Watchdog November 11, 2012 at 08:10 AM
Insurance companies limit fallen tree claims to $500.00 however if the tree is on your home, they will pay any "reasonable" amount to remove it. Does this also apply to other structures such as a fence or a shed?
Mark T. Freeley, Esq. November 11, 2012 at 01:37 PM
The first thing that you should do is read your homeowner's insurance policy to see what the policy says is covered as not all policies provide the exact same coverage. However, I believe that most policies will only cover the home and attached garage or structure. So there likely will not be coverage for your shed or fence. I know under the policy that insured my first house it provided coverage to replace my aluminum patio awning that was attached to my house and damaged in a wind storm.
George P. Georgaklis, Esq. November 11, 2012 at 04:45 PM
I disagree that a homeowner "must" file with his/her insurance company. A homeowner in theory would have the option of pursuing a claim with the insurance company or making a claim against the neighbor. Practically however, due to cost and time factors, its easier to make the claim with the insurance carrier. As a side note, the insurance carrier may then pursue a subrogation claim against the neighbor in order to recoup any losses.
Mark T. Freeley, Esq. November 11, 2012 at 05:04 PM
I would always first file a claim with my own insurance company to place them on notice of a potential claim. This is because if you fail to do so they may be able to disclaim coverage due to untimely notice and then you may be left with no coverage under your policy. After you place your company on notice you can always also put in a claim under your neighbor's policy and try to prove that they knew there was a problem with the tree. Then if you are unsuccessful, you can go back to your own company and pursue your claim with them.
Watchdog November 11, 2012 at 06:50 PM
If every company did it this where it would technically be a wash for all companies. Therefore, it would appear that in the majority of cases. Homeowners will look to their own policies for reimbursement.
Anne Marie November 11, 2012 at 07:25 PM
This is insane.. Common sense would make sense here... if it's your tree that fell and damaged someone else's property, then pay up. it's not rocket science, it;s everyone out for themselves and going into attack mode when they feel wronged. Issues like this compound the "me-me-me" view of society. It gets a bit monotonous and evokes a dissonance when repeated. What the hell happened to the rest of the scale?
Watchdog November 11, 2012 at 08:06 PM
Anne Marie, I was as surprised as you. My tree fell and damaged a neighbors fence, probably less than $1000, however I have in excess if $10,000 in damages to my home from my neighbors tree which fell on my home. Each of us has to go to our own insurance company. I think your understanding of this is incorrect. It is not ME ME ME, it is the way the insurance companies work. No one is in " attack mode". It is convoluted but in a strange way probably washes out equally in the final analysis.
JeanMarie V November 12, 2012 at 07:28 PM
In my opinion, this law is unfair and the neighbor should be responsible for your damage if the tree came from their yard. Last year with Hurricane Irene my neighbors tree fell in my yard and we had to pay for the clean up. It's not fair.
Anne Marie November 12, 2012 at 09:02 PM
My issue is that it just doesn't sit right, ya know? i couldn't rest easy if something of mine damaged something of someone else's and I didn't at least make an amend of some sort.
Joel Blitzer November 12, 2012 at 09:28 PM
http://www.iii.org/articles/trees-and-insurance.html Here is an excellent article from the insurance information institute
Mark T. Freeley, Esq. November 12, 2012 at 09:33 PM
Thanks Joel, good article.
Watchdog November 12, 2012 at 11:36 PM
You can always pay it out of your own pocket even though you are not legally responsible if it makes you feel better.
Kate T November 14, 2012 at 08:26 PM
I think the neighbors should have to pay, or at last pay for some of the damage considering that that tree is apart of their property. I mean if their car blew away into someone's house they would have to pay for it so why not if its a tree?
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