Explain homeowners liability when a tree falls

Had some strong winds the last few days and saw that a few houses down, a tree fell and crushed the car of the neighborhood handyman. It’s a 20 year old beater so not sure if he has comp insurance, but from what I understand, the homeowners policy won’t cover it. That seems bizarre. If the tree was on the homeowners property, and it caused damage, why wouldn’t they cover it? How is that any different than if someone trips and falls on your steps or sidewalk?

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In most states, a tree falling is an act of nature UNLESS the tree was found/documented to be a hazard prior to it falling. The owner of the tree (or the land where the tree lived) is legally not responsible for the act of nature. Automobile insurance exists to protect the owner of the automobile.


What he said. Actually, I am quite sure this legal principle is universal in the USA.

The only exception is that if the home owner have been warned about a diseased tree and choose not to act.

Also, not every slip-and-fall is home owner responsibly, similarly, someone need to provide evidence of negligence like sidewalk in disrepair, obstruction, etc…

I think it’s worthwhile to everyone to watch a few episode of “People’s Court”, just to get understanding of basic legal concepts.

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So if the tree fell on someone walking by, H.O. insurance wouldn’t even cover their medical bills?

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It’ll cover bills up to the Medical Payments limit of the policy. But that’s because the coverage isnt tied to liability.


I didn’t know that, learned something today.

from wikipedia:

Coverage F – Medical Payments
Designed to pay for medical expenses to others who are accidentally injured on an insured location or by the activities of an insured, resident employee, or an animal owned by or in the care of an insured. These payments are not based on the law of negligence; that is, no negligence on the part of the insured has to be proven for payment to be made.[23]

Classic FWF post. Thanks for the nostalgia.

If we have time, let’s also discuss the implications of the tree on your property falling onto school children who’s bus driver keeps stopping in your driveway every morning, in spite of numerous complaints to the school board. Are you liable or the school? IANAL.


It made the swish sound of a new FWF post asking for advice.

Don’t we all need an MSPAINT drawing too?

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If it’s the neighborhood handyman, depending on how good they are you might consider replacing it. Having a good handyman in your pocket is gold for emergencies like winter storms that take out a ton of trees at once.

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If driving down the road and someone rear-ends you, causing you to rear-end the person ahead of you, would you expect to be responsible for repairing the car in front of you? Your car is your property, and it is what caused the damage to the front car, so why wouldnt you cover it?

The fact is, it was the car behind you that effected the accident and damage. Just like it was the wind that effected the handyman’s car to be crushed by a tree.

That isn’t a great example, since if you rear-end the person in front you, in any state I’ve lived in you’d still be at least partially at fault for that portion of the total accident. (multi-car crashes tend to get the liability distributed, since for a multi-car crash to occur everyone except the front car was “following too closely”)

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If the scenario shifts to all cars are stopped at a red light/stop sign/whatever and then another car strikes the last and causes multiple cars to hit each other, the offending car in the rear of the bunch is typically the offender.

Sure. But that wasn’t his example.

Or T-boned and pushed sideways into another vehicle; the intended scenario was one with no contributory factors. Not to get distracted by this tangent, but it is still relevant since a known dead/diseased/distressed tree (ie, “following too close”) will also result in liability.

It will result in liability - if - the facts show the dead/diseases/distressed status was known prior to the fall.

Just to clarify, insurance covers and pays for acts of nature all the time. Hence, the reason that insurance will pay for your roof if it is damaged by hail, will pay if a tree falls on your house (your insurance will pay, not your neighbor’s), etc…

Homeowners insurance also covers its insured’s liability to third parties. Acts of nature do not give rise to liability on the part of the insured, however. Unless the insured was aware that the tree was dead or deceased and failed to cut it down, a falling tree does not give rise to any liability on the part of the insured, which is also the reason that insurance won’t pay a third party whose car is damaged by the tree. It’s not any different from a situation where a third party parked his/her car in your driveway, which then gets damaged by hail.

Let’s assume that there is a tree on your neighbor’s property and that it is decaying or dead. You notice it. How do you warn and retain proof that you warned your neighbor that the tree was at risk of falling sufficient to establish liability?

If you really want to piss off your neighbor, I suppose you could file a complaint with some city/county inspector. Or, you could just walk next door, ring the doorbell and let them know you noticed the tree is decaying and see what they say.