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Mailbag- Who's Liable for Tree Damage

Mailbag- Who's Liable for Tree Damage

| July 14, 2021

From the Rummel Wealth Management Mailbag, where as always these are real questions from real clients.

(Of course the names are changed to protect the innocent.)


From Dan in Farwell:

A dead limb in a giant tree fell on our neighbors property and damaged their grill and deck.  Am I liable?

Thank you for the question Dan. Like lots of things in life, it depends.

With recent thunderstorms in Frankenmuth and limb pickup afterward, now is as good a time as any to tour your property and assess trees that may be a risk factor.  With oak wilt killing multiple 100+ year old trees at the Foltz family cottage, my chainsaw has seen plenty of use already this spring and summer.

Now on to the “answer” from a person that is not an attorney and not providing legal advice. 

For a refresher, as a homeowner, your are NOT generally responsible for the damage caused by a tree on your property that hits your neighbor’s home or other insured structure, such as a garage, shed, deck, or grill.  When such damage occurs to your neighbor’s home due to forces outside your control, like weather events, your neighbors may have to file a claim with their insurer to receive a reimbursement for the damage a down tree or branches cause.

There is one exception, however.

If it is determined that the tree damage stems from your negligence, your will likely be found responsible. Negligence could be dead limbs that you refused to cut down, you chose to trim your tree as a weekend project, or leave dead trees standing for many years. If this is the situation, then the neighbor’s insurer may come after you to recover their loss—a process called subrogation.¹

You may want to check your policy or speak to your insurance agent to determine if your homeowners policy covers your liability in cases of negligence.  And while talking with your insurance agent, double check the replacement value of your home.  With the higher costs of lumber prices, the cost to replace your home may be higher than the limits of your policy.  If you have been looking for a new insurance agent that can walk you through these types of questions and has multiple insurance companies to help find a good match for your needs, call some of my co-workers at Emil Rummel Agency, Inc. - 989-652-6104 for assistance.

Back to the tree falling on neighbor’s property scenario. Some neighbors may seek to bring legal action against you, though often that is unnecessary.

First, determine what municipal laws are in place to cover such instances. Generally speaking, you are not responsible unless you knew, or should have known, about the danger. Proving what you knew or should have known can be difficult and costly in a court of law. It typically benefits both parties to arrive at a compromise that avoids an expensive legal process.

Lastly, it may be easier to pay for part or all of the damage and remain friendly with your neighbors. What would you want to happen if the roles were reversed?

As always, loyal readers, please submit your questions to where real life meets real people and we give real advice.

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1. The information in this material is not intended as as legal advice. Please consult legal or insurance professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation.