Over the past decade, there have been several major weather events in the Ulster County area that caused a significant amount of trees to fall. Some of these events, like in-season thunderstorms and snowstorms, were relatively predictable. Others, such as the blustery nor’easter in October 2011 or Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, were very out of the ordinary.
The impact of Hurricane Sandy was particularly severe. The falling of trees caused power outages, damage to property, and even loss of life. In some cases, trees that fell on a property belonged to that property owner. In other cases, trees that fell were originally on a neighbor’s property.
All of this raises a complicated question: If your neighbor’s tree falls into your yard, who is responsible for the damage?
There are several factors to consider when determining responsibility, and the process can be quite involved. If you find yourself in this situation, we recommend calling a premises liability attorney. Here at Shafran & Rock, our committed firm can assess who is liable for damages and ensure that you are getting the compensation you deserve.
Who Is Responsible When a Healthy Tree Falls?
Much of the time, a tree branch or tree will fall entirely randomly. If this tree was healthy and a reasonable person could not have anticipated the problem, no individual can be held liable.
In some situations, such as extreme weather, a fallen tree or tree branch may constitute an act of nature, also called an act of God. Many home and auto insurance companies cover damages under this clause, but which events qualify as an act of God varies based on the specifics of the insurance policy.
When Could My Neighbor Be Held Responsible for a Fallen Tree?
A tree owner could be held responsible for a tree falling if they previously knew that the tree was dangerous but did not do anything to address the problem.
A homeowner would most likely be held liable for damages for a tree that fell on a neighbor’s property if they had received prior notice from a professional that the tree was hazardous. In New York state, this would occur if, for instance, a property owner has been informed by a tree service that there is a dead tree on their property.
If the property owner does not follow up on the issue, they are likely to be held responsible for damages. For this reason, the tree falling could be considered a predictable hazard.
A property owner could also be considered liable even if a professional did not inform them about a dead or hazardous tree. This is particularly likely if their tree had a more obvious defect, such as a broken branch.
However, there are also situations where a property owner could be held liable even if they were unaware that they had a decaying tree on their property. A property owner must maintain a safe environment, and not doing so could be considered negligence.
Example of a Tree Case in New York State
Trees that straddle property lines can allow for unique legal cases when it comes to fallen trees or tree branches. In 2015, a pair of neighbors in Rochester, NY, had a dispute about the status of an unsafe tree branch. The tree was firmly planted on one family’s property, but a 15-foot branch hung into their neighbor’s yard.
Eventually, the neighbor who had the hazardous branch in her yard decided to pay to have it cut down. She did so with permission from the owners of the property where the tree was rooted, and this prevented any potential damages.
However, if the branch had fallen, who would have been at fault? It all depends on the timing. In this case, the two families, the Karpenkos and Raleighs, had lived next door to each other for over 30 years.
The tree branch had been hanging in the Raleighs’ yard for several months when Ms. Raleigh decided to call a local code enforcer. He determined that the tree branch posed a potential hazard and presented a notice to the Karpenkos. If the branch had fallen in this interim, the Karpenkos could have been held responsible for any damages on the Raleighs’ property.
However, even if a tree is planted in a neighbor’s yard, a homeowner has the right to trim any branches that hang on to their property. With this in mind, Ms. Raleigh paid to have the branch cut down to prevent the chance of it falling.
What Are the Signs of a Hazardous Tree?
As a homeowner, it is crucial to know the common features of a decaying tree on your property. Here are some major signs of hazardous trees:
- Broken branches
- Hanging branches
- Weak branches
- Discolored leaves
- Visible decay in the tree trunk
- Split tree trunks
- Mushrooms or other fungus growing near the roots of the tree
- Visible leaning
- Dead limbs
- Changes in the color of the bark
- Missing or decaying bark
- Root damage
Although the average person would notice some of these defects, others may require a tree specialist’s trained eye. If you have any doubt in your mind about the health of the trees on your property, we recommend calling a tree specialist to perform an inspection and prevent any potential damage later on.
What Should I Do If a Falling Tree or Branch Injures Me?
If you are injured by a falling tree or branch and want to file for damages, the first thing to do after getting medical treatment is to take pictures of the incident. Then, when you reach out to a premises liability attorney, they will be able to use these photographs as evidence in determining liability.
Contact Kingston Premises Liability Attorney Charles N. Rock
If you find yourself a victim of a fallen tree or tree branch, reach out to our practice today. Attorney Charles N. Rock will bring his expertise in premises liability law to your case, and guide you in determining how to move through the steps of the legal process.
You can contact Attorney Charles N. Rock by calling (845) 383-1170.