Everyone in Michigan is familiar with the saying “if a tree falls in the middle of the woods, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” But in cases of storm damage, a new saying has people asking a similar question: if my tree falls on my neighbor’s property, and I didn’t do it, who pays for the damages?

This week, we have been trying to give readers of our blog information on what to do in instances of storm damage before Mother Nature decides to rear her ugly side. Earlier this week, we discussed landlord-tenant agreements and how storm damage can affect leases. Today, we’d like to focus on what happens when your tree causes damage to your neighbor’s property.

First, let’s start with your insurance. It’s important for property owners to carefully review their homeowner’s insurance policy in order to know what will and will not be covered in the event that your property suffers damage. In most cases, your insurance company will reimburse you for any damage caused to your property when a tree falls, minus your deductable, if you decide to file a claim. But what if someone is injured because of the falling tree? Who is held liable?

The general rule is that if your tree falls on your neighbor’s property, even if it causes injury, you will not be held liable as long as you are not found negligent. But what constitutes as negligence? The answer to this question depends heavily on whether you knew that the tree was a potential hazard before it fell and whether your neighbor had complained about the tree prior to it falling. What actions you took in accordance to that complaint will also play a vital role in determining whether negligence was present.

Although the “tree law” has had a convoluted-and sometimes contradictory-history, the law boils down to one simple fact: the tree owner is only responsible if that owner was negligent. If you’re ever in doubt over liability, don’t hesitate to speak to a real estate attorney knowledgeable in the subject area. Their guidance can be quite helpful if Mother Nature ever does try to throw you a proverbial curve ball.

Source: The Rockland County Times, “Hurricane Sandy Causes Legal Headaches,” Legal Larry, Nov. 8, 2012