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A storm with strong winds can topple trees and cause major structural damage to a house, garage, shed, car or boat. If a tree falls and damages property, it’s important to understand who is liable and how to seek coverage for repairs.

Who Owns the Tree?
The location of the trunk determines who the owner of the tree is. If the trunk is on your property, you own the tree. If the trunk is on your neighbor’s property, your neighbor owns the tree. It doesn’t matter if the tree has long branches that extend over a fence and far into the other person’s yard.

Who Is Liable for Damage?
Under the laws of most states, if a property owner’s tree falls and causes damage on someone else’s property through no fault of the tree owner, he or she is not liable for damage. If a tree falls because of an “Act of God,” such as a storm, the person whose property was damaged can file a claim with his or her own homeowners insurance policy.

If the owner of an old, diseased or decaying tree fails to have it trimmed or cut down, and then it falls in a storm that would not have knocked down a healthy tree and damages someone else’s property, the owner of the tree can be held liable. Some homeowners insurance policies will provide coverage for tree damage if the policyholder was negligent, while others will not.

What to Do If a Tree Falls and Causes Damage
If a storm causes a tree to fall onto your property, take steps to prevent further damage, if possible. Take photos from a safe distance and from multiple angles to document the damage. Then contact your homeowners insurance company. It will send an adjuster to inspect the damage. If your neighbor is found liable, your insurance company can cover your repair costs and then seek reimbursement from your neighbor’s insurer.

If a storm knocks down a tree with a trunk in your yard and it causes damage on your neighbor’s property, let your neighbor contact his or her homeowners insurance company to file a claim. If you properly maintained the tree, you will not be liable for the damage. Keep records related to tree trimming and pruning in case you need to prove that you cared for the tree before it fell and damaged your neighbor’s property. If you did not care for the tree and it fell because of your negligence, your insurance policy may or may not cover the damage.