Possible Liability Issues Regarding Trees

By harley erbe

Trees 1

Many people like having large, mature trees on their property.  Trees look nice, they create shade, and they add a little nature to urban communities.  But have you ever thought about the potential liability that the trees on your property could cause?

Possible ways in which your trees could lead to liability include:

The main issue with trees is of course falling trees and limbs large enough to do damage.  On the one hand, you might think it odd that you could be liable for something that happens regarding a tree's natural growth, which you don't have much control over.  But you can be.  If you have a tree that's diseased, that's been damaged by a storm, or is otherwise naturally growing in a manner that's creating a danger or intruding on a neighbor's property, you have an obligation to remedy the situation.  Conversely, if your perfectly health tree falls or has a limb fall off during a storm, that'd be an act of nature and you probably wouldn't be liable for any resulting personal injuries or property damage.

As Des Moines personal injury lawyers and Des Moines car accident lawyers, what we'd most commonly see is a limb, not necessarily an entire tree, that has fallen on someone or on a road, thus causing an accident, or perhaps a limb falls on a neighboring house or vehicle, leading to a property damage claim.  Shorter trees can also grow out over roads and obstruct drivers' vision, increasing the chances of a car accident.  You're possibly liable if that tree was on your property.  The courts impose on you a duty to inspect your trees for signs of disease or other issues and fix them by trimming or removing limbs, or removing the entire tree if necessary.

A less common issue caused by large trees is the encroachment of tree roots on neighboring property.  Since tree roots are commonly hidden, this is an issue that most people are unaware of until noticeable damage occurs.  A common type of damage caused by encroaching tree roots is damage to structures, especially foundations, as the tree roots continue to grow and exert pressure against the unmoving structure. 

Tree root issues are a difficult situation from a legal standpoint.  Often, there's nothing much that can be done to stop the damage from continuing to occur short of removing the tree.  But what about the damage the tree roots have already caused to the structure?  That property owner can sue, but it's a tough claim to win.  The courts' general policy is that people who choose to live in neighborhoods where mature trees are prevalent, both on their property and on neighbors', bear the risk of the natural problems that come with trees.  Examples of natural problems include falling leaves, branches, and limbs, rodents and insects, and of course hidden tree roots that are expanding in ways that no one can see until it's too late. 

About the only time that tree root/property damage claims are successful in Des Moines real estate litigation cases is when the tree owner had notice that the tree roots were damaging someone else's property and refused to do anything about it.  Tree root/property damage claims require proof of negligence.  Negligence requires evidence that the tree owner knew or should have known that the tree's roots were damaging someone else's property.  You can see how those claims are difficult to prove in the context of hidden tree roots until the roots actually begin causing visible damage.

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