What Happens Legally if a Tree Damages My Property?

By Tree Expert Codey Stout
Updated On

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” may be a philosophical question, but “if my tree crashes through my neighbor’s roof, who is responsible?” is incredibly practical.

In this guide, we are going to explore the legal ramifications of a tree falling down. By the end, you’ll know:

What Happens Legally if a Tree Damages My Property?
  • If homeowners insurance covers damage from a fallen tree or the removal costs
  • How to file an insurance claim in the event of property damage from a falling tree
  • What to do if a tree falls on your vehicle
  • How to prevent your tree from damaging your property

And much more!

So, if you want to know how to take care of any tree damage on your property from a legal perspective, keep reading.

*Note: This is not legal advice, we are not your lawyers, and if you want to be certain about how to navigate a legal situation involving a tree on your property or your neighbor’s property, please contact a lawyer.

Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Tree Damage?

When a tree falls on your home, your first order of business should be to ensure no one was hurt. Once you confirm everyone’s safety, you can begin to think about the financial responsibility you may have to remove the tree and repair any damage it caused.

Thankfully, your homeowners’ insurance policy can and will cover damages from fallen trees, which means you might be off the hook for paying for home repairs.

There are three distinct situations that can change your insurance provider’s involvement when a tree falls on your home.

The Tree Falls Naturally

If a tree just falls naturally with no apparent cause, you may or may not be liable for paying for the damages yourself. Trees generally don’t just topple over, so your insurance company will likely look into the underlying cause of it falling.

Insurance providers are there to cover damages that are unavoidable, but tree maintenance is considered routine, and you, as the homeowner, are expected to maintain healthy trees at all times. If they can prove that you were negligent or should have known your tree was in danger of falling, they likely won’t cover the damages.

For example, if your inspector or insurance agent finds that your tree was clearly rotting, infected by a local tree disease, or being visibly torn apart by wood-destroying insects, they will likely hold you liable for the damage based on your negligence in keeping your tree healthy.

Trees on your property that fall because of diseases, insect infestation, or other causes that you could have avoided or predicted will likely be your responsibility, which is all the more reason to hire professional services to maintain your trees and keep them healthy.

If the Tree Falls Over Due to Natural Disaster

On the other hand, a natural disaster bringing down a tree is often unavoidable and unpredictable. As such, your insurance provider will very likely cover all damages if a flood, tornado, wind storm, lightning strike, earthquake, or other natural cause brings down your tree. In this case, you’ll typically only be responsible for the deductible.

In some cases, your insurance company can hold you liable for all damages if they can prove that your tree was severely weakened by disease or pests. Although this isn’t applicable in most cases, if you could have avoided the tree toppling in the natural disaster, you might be on the hook for all repair costs.

Similar to a tree falling under normal circumstances, a severely weakened tree that comes down in a storm might have been avoidable. The chances are high that your insurance provider will cover the repairs anyway, but it’s best to have your trees professionally serviced to avoid any complications.

If Your Neighbor’s Tree Falls On Your Home

If a tree growing on your neighbor’s property falls over onto your home, you can rest assured that you won’t be liable for paying for the damages, no matter the circumstances. If the tree was healthy and came down due to a natural disaster or “act of nature,” your insurance provider will most likely pick up the bill.

However, if your insurance company can prove that the tree fell due to your neighbor’s negligence, they may hold your neighbor or their insurance company liable for the damages.

In the event of your neighbor’s tree coming down on your property, you might be liable for covering the cost of the tree removal services. 

Depending on your local laws, responsibility for tree removal if it causes damage to your home or automobile may fall to you or your neighbor.

In some areas, you will be responsible for tree cleanup no matter what. In others, you may only be accountable if your neighbor’s tree was healthy before it fell due to an “act of God.”

Check your local regulations and laws to ensure that you’re not paying for removal when you don’t need to be.

Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Fallen Tree Removal?

If a tree falls on your home for any of the reasons mentioned above except for your own negligence, your insurance policy covers the bill for tree removal costs.

However, your homeowners’ insurance policy is meant to cover damage to your home, so they are unlikely to pay for removal services if the tree falls and doesn’t damage your main structure. For example, they won’t cover removal costs if the tree falls only on your landscaping, your shed, or your car unless you have comprehensive coverage.

If they do cover removal service costs when a tree topples onto your home, they typically won’t pay for stump removal or additional services, like log splitting or mulching.

Tree fallen on roof

How Do I File a Claim for Tree Damage On My Property?

In the unfortunate event of a tree falling on your home, you can at least find solace in the fact that filing a claim with your insurance company makes filing a claim simple.

You can begin by taking pictures of the event for your records, and then call your insurance provider to notify them of the damage. Most insurers have an app that can make submitting your photos effortless, so you can opt to open a claim via your smartphone as well.

Once the claim is received and processed, your insurance company will send an insurance adjuster to your property to assess the damage and estimate a cost to repair, which will end up being the total amount they payout for the damage.

Your insurance provider will take care of everything from this point forward, including calling in a tree removal service in many cases. They will let you know if they want you to hire professional help for the removal and then seek reimbursement or if they intend to hire a company themselves.

What Happens if a Tree Falls On My Car?

If a tree on your property or your neighbor’s property falls on your car, you’ll want to go through the same process as above, but with your auto insurance company instead.

Begin by taking detailed, clear pictures of the damage and the tree, and either send them to your auto insurer via their app or call them to open a claim.

Your auto insurance provider will take care of everything from this point on and coordinate with you throughout the process.

Tree fallen on car

How Can I Prevent a Tree From Falling On My Property?

Trees toppling over and damaging your home can be a traumatic experience at worst and a severely unpleasant one at best.

Luckily, there are some ways you can prevent tree damage on your property, whether a potentially dangerous tree is located on your property or your neighbor’s.

Remove Potentially Dangerous Trees

Of course, one of the best ways to prevent trees from crashing into your house is never to plant them near the structure in the first place. In a similar sense, if a prior owner or your neighbor has a tree that could cause severe damage if it fell, it might be a good candidate for removal.

When trees beyond the height of your home or end up holding massive tree limbs out over your roofing, they pose a serious risk for your structure as well as you and your family. Having dead or dying trees removed before they have a chance to fall in a storm or after a disease or pest infestation further weakens the wood can mitigate your risk.

Check out the video below for a quick guide on checking to see if your tree is dead or dying:

YouTube video

If the tree is growing on your neighbor’s yard, you aren’t legally allowed to remove it, even if it poses a risk to your house. You can call in a professional trimming service to trim branches up to the property line, but you have to be careful not to kill the tree in the process, or you’ll be liable for doing permanent damage to your neighbor’s property.

Your best course of action is to speak with your neighbor about the dangerous tree and notify them via certified mail about the hazard.

If you take the time to deliver the news in writing, you can guarantee that your neighbor or your neighbor’s insurance will cover any cost of damage done to your home. If they don’t respond to your request for tree removal, you may need to seek legal advice from a local lawyer.

Have Your Tree Professionally Maintained and Inspected

Whether you identify a tree on your property as potentially hazardous or not, it’s in your best interest to call in professional arborists like those from Tree Triage to prune and inspect your trees. This process is best done at least once a year.

Pruning your tree will ensure that growth occurs in the healthiest and safest direction possible, which will help prevent those massive limbs from crashing down on your home. It will also maintain an adequate canopy that will help your tree thrive, which will keep it from coming down unexpectedly in storms or other natural disasters.

This is especially important if trees threaten your neighbor’s house, as you could be liable for damages if a dead or dying tree falls on their home.

Having professional arborists inspect your trees annually will uncover the majority of diseases and insects that can deteriorate your tree and leave it prone to dropping limbs or falling over entirely.

If your tree has already been compromised, the arborists at Tree Triage can even reverse the effects of many ailments and limit the risk of trees or limbs damaging your home.

Meet Your Tree Expert

Codey Stout

Codey Stout is the operations manager for Tree Triage and has years of experience removing trees. His expertise has been featured in publications like Yahoo, The Family Handyman, Homes & Gardens, and many more. The only thing Codey likes doing more than removing intrusive trees, is removing unsightly stumps.
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