Trick or Tree! Fallen Tree and Downed Power Line Questions After Halloween N’or Easter

by Rich Vetstein on October 31, 2011 · 5 comments

in Boundaries, Massachusetts Real Estate Law, Premises Liability, Safety

Tree Damage At My House, Sudbury MA

It was only 3 months ago I was blogging about fallen trees and downed power lines in the wake of Hurricane Irene. Well, here we go again with the Halloween N’or Easter Storm 2011 with the same questions and answers. As you can see to my right, I woke up to a huge limb across my front lawn, which luckily didn’t snap my lines or hit my house! For those less unfortunate, I will outline the law again.

Who Is Responsible If My Neighbor’s Tree Falls On My Property?

The short answer is that, legally speaking, your neighbor is not liable for a healthy tree falling down during a major storm event. That is considered an “Act of God” for which no one is legally liable (except God of course, but I think he enjoys some type of legal immunity–I’m not sure, I’ll have to research that one). So, you will have to make a claim under your homeowner’s insurance policy for the damage caused by the neighbor’s tree.

As the court stated in the 1983 case of Ponte v. DaSilva:

The failure of a landowner to prevent the blowing or dropping of leaves, branches, and sap from a healthy tree onto a neighbor’s property is not unreasonable and cannot be the basis of a finding of negligence or private nuisance. Of course, a neighbor has the right to remove so much of the tree as overhangs his property. To impose liability for injuries sustained as a result of debris from a healthy tree on property adjoining the site of the accident would be to ignore reality, and would be unworkable. No case has been brought to our attention in which liability has been imposed in such circumstances

On the other hand, if the neighbor’s tree was diseased or decayed, was known to be at risk of falling and the neighbor ignored it, there could be negligence and liability. Either way, if you have homeowner’s insurance, the insurance companies will sort out fault and blame.

  • Summerhathway

    This post is such interesting article to read .

  • Bad Tree

    I’m in a more unusual situation. I’m 2 weeks from closing and several tress have fallen on the property–luckily none hit the house. We’ve asked the seller to remove the trees and are waiting to hear back from their lawyer. Their agent has already said he doesn’t think they are responsible because the trees a in a wooded part of the property (it’s a 1 acre lot). We have a clause in the P&S that says the property must be free of debris, which I’d think includes a newly fell tree but IANAL. I’ve asked my lawyer his opinion but figured I see if you had any thoughts.

    An additional complication is that one tree is uprooted but hasn’t completely fallen over (it’s leaning on another tree). When it does fall, I think it will fall onto the neighbors yard, and possibly a stone wall. Given the obvious concerns about liability, I don’t see how I could close without at least that tree being removed (or at least moved wholly unto the property). I wonder if I could even get homeowners insurance with the tree like that.

  • Jason Page

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  • sesvv

    We are in exactly this situation.  Some branches fell from our tree to a neighbors yard.  Now they want all the trees cut down at my expense.  I have previously hired an arborist who said that the trees were healthy and also trimmed them.  (I have told them that they can cut them down at their expense if they choose).  Some of the trees have branches that pass onto my neighbor’s property.  Am I correct that my only responsibility is to remove sick or dying trees?  And am I obliged to trim back trees which cross into their property?  My understanding is that they have the right to trim those branches, but I do not have that responsibility.

    • Henry

      Branches
      that fall from your yard into a neighbor’s yard is your neighbor’s
      responsibility to clean-up. Unless trees in your yard are leaning or diseased
      which endanger your neighbor or their property, then your neighbor can not
      force you to trim or remove any trees on your own property. Your neighbor can
      trim branches that reach from your side over into their yard, if they so
      desire. You are not obligated to trim any branches that cross over into their
      yard.  

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