My tree fell onto my neighbors’ property – am I liable for damage?

By Dave Hunnicutt
Oregon Property Owners Association,

The recent Portland-area ice storms wreaked havoc on many neighborhoods. Besides treacherous road conditions, and a loss of power in many areas, homeowners were faced with a barrage of fallen trees landing across property lines.

Every winter, when we have a big storm that causes trees to fall, we get calls from property owners asking if they have to pay for damages to their neighbors’ land caused by a tree falling from their land onto the neighbors’ property.  For example, a tree on your property falls onto your neighbors’ driveway and smashes their brand-new pickup.  Do you (or more likely your insurance) have to pay for a new truck?

In nearly all cases, the answer is no.  A property owner with trees is not liable to a neighbor for damage caused by the tree falling onto the neighbor’s property.  The law does not require a property owner to predict a storm’s impact on tree damage, whether the tree will fall, or in what direction.  Couple that with the fact that many homes were built long after the tree was there and there is almost never liability to the property owner for tree damage to neighboring properties.

That doesn’t mean that a property owner can never be found liable for tree damage to neighboring property.  Oregon appellate courts have looked at this issue and hold that:

A property owner who plants trees in a manner that harms neighboring property may have liability for any damage caused to the neighbors’ property, but only if the landowner planted the trees in a manner that was negligent, reckless, or intentional regarding damage to the neighbors’ property.

For example, a property owner who plants a tree near the property line might have liability to a neighbor for damage caused when the tree falls over, or the branches intrude into the neighbor’s roof area, or the roots grow on the neighbor’s property and damage the neighbor’s foundation or sidewalk. But the property owner will only have liability if a court finds that the property owner acted negligently or recklessly when planting the tree or planted the tree with the intent to damage the neighbor’s property (there’s a neighbor you should avoid). That’s not going to happen very often.

So, rest assured property owners. If your tree falls onto your neighbor’s house during a storm, there’s very little chance you’ll be responsible for paying for the damage it causes. With that said, ultimately liability comes down to our favorite saying as lawyers – it depends!

At OPOA, we stand by ready to assist property owners in answering the complicated legal questions that may impact their private property rights. If you need help, please email us at [email protected] and make sure to subscribe to our email list as we send out useful information for property owners weekly.

The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not represent the opinions or positions of any party represented by the OPOA Legal Center on any particular matter.