Some people may not think this law is strange but I certainly did and everyone that I told agreed with me. In Michigan (I am not certain if this pertains to other states) if your neighbors tree should fall on your property you are liable for the damage. So, when my neighbors tree fell on my shed, fence, and cable wires from their investment property I was not worried because I did not know the law. Ignorance is such bliss. My first thought was “oh well, their insurance will cover it”.
The next morning I called my insurance agent and asked them to take care of the matter because I thought my insurance would go after my neighbor’s insurance company. I was then told no Ms. Davis you have a $1000 deductible and your insurance has to pay because it fell on your property. I was then told if I filed a claim my insurance would go up. I was shocked. The reasoning behind this law is if a tornado carried someone’s tree from miles away and shoved it into your home it could be difficult to prove whose tree it was. This is why your own home owner’s insurance has to pay for your neighbor’s tree.
Now there is a good side to this story and there is something to be learned here. As with any law, a law is put in place to protect the public and with any law it can be argued depending on the circumstances. You see, this tree didn’t just fall there was a history to it all.
A year prior to this incident a large branch fell off a box elder from that same neighbor’s yard and dented my fence but caused most of the damage to the neighbor’s investment property. I thought the neighbor would have offered to fix the dent in the fence since that would be the neighborly thing to do. After all, I was kind enough to call the city and get their phone number and tell them about the damage to their home. I was miffed but didn’t feel it was worth arguing over so I said nothing.
Then on May 14, 2011 the neighbor’s large twin box elder lost one of it’s two arms and fell on the neighbor’s investment property. I was concerned the other arm would fall on my property since the tree appeared to be unstable. This time I didn’t bother to call the city to get the neighbor’s phone but instead I called their realtor and let them know of the tree damage and that the entire tree should be removed to prevent further damage. This thing I did changed the law for me because in law this is called “constructive notice”.
The neighbors hired someone to clean up the mess but left the hazardous tree standing. The just a couple short weeks later on June 9, 2011 the other arm of the neighbor’s tree fell on my fence, cables, and shed. After speaking to my insurance company I complained to everyone I knew including a dear friend who is a retired Judge. He told me that I could take the neighbor to small claims and win.
He cited Dudley v. Meadowbrook 166 A. 2d 743 (1961) which concluded it is a land owners duty to periodically inspect the trees on his property or at least have them examined by a tree expert to determine if they are safe or not. Based on this I took my neighbor to court.
The defendants tried to paint me as a liar by stating that I had their phone number from a year ago. I had thrown out the slip of paper that I jotted their number down on a year ago. This was irrelevant to the case anyhow because I called the realtor and the defendants were notified. The defendants also stated several neighbors called the realtor about the fallen tree. I was a bundle of nerves representing myself and trying to hold myself together. Going to court is hard enough but I had laid my Father to rest the day prior to going to court.
I won my small claims lawsuit even though the man I was suing was a “somebody” in town. The Judge asked me if I knew who the man was and what he had done for our community. I replied “no” and then became concerned and confused. I was unsure of what relevance that had to the case. I began to wonder if “doing things for the community” was going to matter in the Judge’s decision. To my surprise I received the Judge’s decision in my favor.
The Judge cited other cases such as Lewis v. Krussel, 101 Wn. App 178, 2 P. 3d 486 (2000) which a land owner who has actual knowledge of defective trees is held accountable to take action and remove those trees. He also cited Meyers v Delaney, 529 N.W.2d. 289 (1995).
So, if I had not made the land owner aware of the dangerous tree, I would have lost. Also, the defendants tried to use hearsay testimony that the tree was not dangerous. They claimed they hired a tree expert but did not bring the witness to court to back up their statement. If they would have had a tree expert in court defending their side, I would have lost.
The court found my neighbors negligent for failing to remove the second arm of the twin box elder tree after I had placed them on constructive notice. The court ordered them to pay my deductible and remove the rest of the tree.
So it is important to inform your neighbor if they have a tree that needs to be cut down and document that you told them. Witnesses help your case. If you go to small claims court bring all of your witnesses, photos, and documentation, be prepared. Ultimately it is up to the Judge who wins but if you do your research you can probably find laws to back up your case.
The moral of this story is: if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, it may or may not make a sound, but if a tree falls in your backyard it definitely makes a noise, leaves you a huge mess to clean up, and can be heard in a court of law.