Heavy snow, soaking rains and high winds have taken their toll on area trees. A common area of disagreement among neighbors is who is responsible for property damage resulting from fallen trees and branches. Most commonly such damage (after the deductible) is covered by the affected neighbor’s insurance policy, and where a vehicle is damaged the affected vehicle owner’s car insurance policy may also apply. Policy provisions vary widely so check your policy (i.e. does it cover outbuildings / fences, have vehicle comprehensive / collision coverage).
Acts of God – Affected Property Owner Pays: With private homes, as opposed to commercial property, generally the homeowner has no duty to his neighbor for property damage resulting from trees and branches falling from the homeowner’s property, especially when due to a true “Act of God” such as a severe wind, rain and snow. Generally the affected neighbor pays for his own property damage, including tree removal, clean up and related expenses.
Knowledge Exception – Tree Owner Pays: An exception to this general rule occurs when the homeowner whose tree the damage originated from knew (or had reason to know) his tree was dangerous to his adjoining neighbor’s property. For example, the tree appeared dead or diseased (so as to be reasonably observable when inspected) and despite such observation the homeowner failed to act to remediate the dangerous tree condition. In suburban and urban settings (where trees are less common) the inspection requirement is greater than in a rural setting (where trees are abundant).
Can Trimming Be Forced? : No one person is solely “responsible” for trimming overhead hanging branches as BOTH adjoining property owners have a right to trim such trees. Since at least 1900 Connecticut law permits an adjoining property owner to lop off branches or roots (up to the line of his land) from a tree located on another person’s property. The person on whose property the tree trunk is located accordingly retains the right to cut / trim that tree as well.
Caution Before Cutting Trees: Before taking unilateral action to cut a tree near a property line, it’s advisable to discuss the project first with your neighbor. Either agree the tree is yours to cut or alternatively get their permission to cut their tree (preferably in writing). Neighbor disputes are some of the most highly charged and costly litigations so a little pre-activity understanding can save lots of future disagreement. Per Connecticut law (C.G.S. § 52-560) any willful cutting of another’s tree (even one on public land) subjects the offender to liability for three times the reasonable value of the tree. If cut through a mistaken belief that the tree was growing on one’s own land then liability is for the tree’s reasonable value only.
For more information, please contact Attorney David A. Baram.