Recent wind storms have done some damage to neighborhoods and homes in Florence and the surrounding communities. Aside from the power outages and debris left behind, fallen trees have damaged homes and property. Following the storms, I was often asked, "who is responsible when a tree falls from a neighbor's property to an adjoining lot?" As with so many legal questions, the answer is not so simple.
To help illustrate the answer, let's say that a storm topples a tree from Tom's yard. It falls over the property line and demolishes Ann's prized new BMW. Ann is understandably not happy, but is Tom legally responsible? If the tree that fell had appeared to be perfectly healthy and it was totally unexpected that it would fall, then Ann might strike him off of the list for the next neighborhood barbeque that she hosts, but she likely won't be getting him or his insurance to pay for her car to be replaced. On the other hand, if the tree was clearly dead or dying and Ann can show that Tom knew (or should have known) that it was threatening her property, then Tom may indeed be on the hook for the new car and especially if Ann had previously complained to Tom about the condition of that same tree.
As a property owner, particularly in a residential area, it is a good idea to keep a check on your trees so that they do not pose harm to your family or your neighbors. If you are in Ann's position and feel that your neighbor's tree is a danger, do the neighborly thing and discuss it with them before trying to seek other remedies. Often times, neighbors will agree to split the cost of having the damaged tree removed. If you cannot convince the neighbor to do anything and you feel strongly that the tree is a danger, you may be able to get assistance from the city (if you are within city limits) or your utility company. As a final option, you might be able to sue for allowing a nuisance, but this route is clearly a last resort as it results in bad blood between neighbors. If possible, avoid attempting to trim or cut the tree yourself.
As with any legal matter, feel free to contact the attorneys at this office if you are unsure of your legal rights.
~ J. Greg Hendrick (April 2013)