Atlanta is a wooded, vibrant city. I am always struck by how green we still are whenever I fly home from a trip to another city.
Of course, our large trees don’t last forever. When we moved into our home 34 years ago, we thought that the nicest features on the property were the several giant, 100 year old plus oak trees in the back yard. That is, until they started to fall. We started with about six and now have just two remaining. Too much rain and the roots lose their grip. Too little rain and they fall from drought. Too much wind and down they go. And the roots spread as wide as the branches, so when the trees fall, they can create quite a mess.
Unfortunately, the trees don’t just fall in our yard. They fall on fences. They fall onto our neighbor’s property. And unfortunately, they have fallen onto our neighbor’s home (no one was injured). Therein lies the question…if a tree falls onto the property of another, who is responsible for the clean-up? Or worse, injuries? Who is responsible for the damage the falling tree or limbs cause?
If your first reaction is to assume, as I did, that if it is your tree, so you are responsible for all the damage, you would be incorrect. The short answer is that you are responsible for the damage on your property and your neighbor is responsible for the damage on their property. There could be an exception if you or a neighbor whose tree falls on your house had notice that the tree was not healthy and likely to fall. It has been held by our courts that the owner of a tree is liable for injuries from its fall only if he knew or reasonably should have known the tree was diseased, decayed or otherwise constituted a dangerous condition. If a tree is simply leaning, that would not be sufficient notice, unless the degree to which it leans makes it an apparent danger. If you have your trees inspected and learn of an issue or the health issues of a tree are significant enough that you are on notice of the danger of it falling, you are likely on the hook for whatever damage your falling tree may cause. As with most legal issues, the use of reasonable and ordinary care should be enough to protect you against a claim of injury or property damage to another. And if you notice that a neighbor’s tree is unhealthy and may fall, you probably want to mention it to them.