Who Pays For Damage Caused by Fallen Trees?
Every year Florida faces many adverse weather events. Hurricanes and severe thunderstorms bring high winds and ferocious lightning strikes that can take down even the sturdiest trees. There is always potential that a tree could land on top of a residential or commercial structure. Fallen trees can cause tremendous amounts of property damage. They can also create some complex liability and insurance claims situations. If your property has been damaged by a fallen tree, it is important that you know how to protect your right to recover fair compensation for your damage.
Could a Neighbor Be Responsible?
In many Florida neighborhoods, large trees from one property hang over the boundary of another property. In the event that a tree like this falls over, a neighbor’s home can receive substantial damage. This raises the question of the extent to which Florida property owners must look out for risks that their trees pose to surrounding properties. Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal took up this issue up in the case of Gallo v. Heller. After reviewing the facts, the court ruled that Florida property owners are not liable for the damage if trees on their property fall onto another home. Instead, the court found that property owners have the right, and responsibility, to protect their own property. They can do this by pruning branches and vegetation that overhangs their land and by purchasing adequate insurance coverage. However, there are exceptions to the general rule. The court in Gallo was assessing a case where a healthy tree fell over due to a major storm. In cases where dying trees fall over, holding a neighbor liable may be possible. Dead trees have a high risk of falling and causing damage. In fact, it is just a matter of time before a dead tree will collapse. Therefore, because the risk that a dead tree would fall is reasonably foreseeable, property owners must take proactive steps to remove those trees. Otherwise they can be held liable for their negligence.
Is Fallen Tree Damage Covered By My Insurance Policy?
The answer to this question will always depend on the precise terms of your policy. However, as a general matter, fallen tree damage is covered by most Florida homeowners’ insurance policies. Of course, you should always take the time to fully review and understand the specific terms of your coverage. If tree damage is covered under your policy, you deserve a full and fair settlement. In order to get this, you need to carefully prepare your tree damage claim. Some specific actions that you should take include:
- Documenting all conversations with adjusters;
- Keeping extensive records of repair costs;
- Taking pictures of your tree damage, ideally from several different angles;
- Getting a damage appraisal from an independent expert; and
- Being ready to hire an attorney if a dispute arises.
Ultimately, if you have not been offered a settlement amount that covers the full extent of your damage, you should let a property insurance attorney review your claim. After a comprehensive assessment, your attorney can help you determine if it makes sense to take any legal action.
Do You Need Legal Advice?
If you are involved in a property insurance dispute, please do not hesitate to contact our experienced legal team today. Our attorneys will review your case free of charge. At Geyer Fuxa Tyler, we proudly serve property owners throughout Broward County, including in Fort Lauderdale and Pembroke Pines.