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If a Tree Falls in Minnesota and No One is There

Insurance companies will make a sound, assuming it hit someone’s property

If a neighbor’s tree falls in a windstorm onto my house, will anyone come clean up the tree damage? Or am I forced to pay for the tree’s removal costs and repairs as the property owner?

The answer may be a little more complicated than it seems. These days, if any damage happens to our property, insurance companies will become involved. To purchase a home in Minnesota, you must carry a homeowners insurance policy and, to that end, the protections of your property are tied.

The current state of the law is almost subservient to the policies of the homeowners insurance they carry. For example, if your neighbor’s tree fell on your house, they should have to pay to fix any damages. In reality, the manner in which the tree fell is the controlling principal in who is responsible for the property damage.

What’s the Law?

If a neighbor’s healthy tree is uprooted—say, storm damage—and falls on a different homeowner’s property line, it becomes the homeowner’s responsibility to make a claim through their insurance company. These events are called “acts of nature.” Most homeowners policies in Minnesota will cover up to $500 of cleanup, leaving the homeowner to cover any extra fees needed.

But, if the neighbor’s tree branch falls onto a different homeowner’s house in nearly any method other than a catastrophic storm, they may be on the hook to fix it. For example, if a slight breeze knocks over the tree—and the neighbor knew the tree was diseased, dying or unstable—the neighbor is responsible for the cleanup. This means it’s crucial that homeowners keep their trees in healthy order; they may be paying for any unhealthy landings.

However, whether or not a neighbor knew a tree was in a healthy or unhealthy state is a difficult thing to prove in court.

If the relationship between neighbors isn’t deep-rooted, finger-pointing may abound about a downed tree. And when money is involved, or a homeowner is displaced due to a fallen tree, a common reaction is to find someone to blame.

What Can I Do?

The general wisdom is to be a good neighbor, and help out if you are the tree owner and your tree falls and the homeowners insurance isn’t coming through. But, general wisdom doesn’t always pay the bills.

The most prudent course of action is to have an experienced tree services company or arborist examine any tree that looks like it could cause damage. It’s always best to get an expert to give an opinion about tree care and tree removal and tree trimming before anything catastrophic occurs. If that’s currently a hindsight, and help is needed to hold an errant neighbor (or, more aptly, their insurance company) to pay for damages to a homeowner’s property, be certain to call a reputable and seasoned insurance litigator

For more information on this area, see our insurance coverage law overview.

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