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When a Tree Falls in Your Neighborhood

On Thursday, the desert was home to an interesting weather phenomenon known as the haboob. It was a strong gust of wind carrying with it a sand storm in the form of a large dust wall. It made for some pretty amazing photos, but it also caused some property damage.

One man was injured when a tree fell on him near the Tahquitz Creek Golf Resort in Palm Springs. A neighbor and good Samaritan who called the police to help the injured man stated that "[e]veryone in this neighborhood has been waiting for this tree to fall," leading at least this reader to believe that the tree wasn't in great shape. This brings up an interesting question: Who is responsible for the injuries suffered by the bystander, and who would be responsible for property damage caused by the falling tree?

First of all, it's important to note that it is unclear where this particular tree was located, and this writer does not claim that it was on anyone's private property.

Homeowners have the responsibility to maintain their property. Typically, the owner of the property on which the tree fell will be responsible for cleaning it up and submitting an insurance claim. That is, of course, if it was a healthy tree that fell over due to an act of nature like a storm or strong wind. Without proof that the neighbor knew or should have known about a dangerous tree, the burden of cleaning up and even for hospital bills should there be any, would be on the person whose property was damaged.

If there is a dead, unstable or diseased tree on a property and it falls over, the owner of the property where the tree is rooted would be liable. Additionally, if the owner of the tree knows that it is unstable and a very light storm could topple it, the owner of the tree could be liable. If there is a situation where the tree owning homeowner was warned about the possibility of the tree falling over in a storm, then it could switch the liability back to the owner. A clearly written letter stating that the owner could be held liable in a situation that leads to the toppling of the tree would be good evidence to swap the burden.

Remember to check your trees regularly to make sure they are healthy and stable in order to not have to deal with insurance premium increases.

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