Is a tree falling on your house an act of god?

In most U.S. states, if your tree or any part of it falls on your neighbor's property and causes damage to your property through no fault of your own (due to a snowstorm, wind, hurricanes, or other alleged fortuitous event), you are not responsible. A fallen tree is an act of God only if it fell for reasons beyond human control. If a tree in your garden fell on your neighbor's house as a result of strong winds, that's an act of God, because it couldn't have stopped the winds from blowing on the tree.

However, if you cut down a tree in your garden and it falls on your neighbor's house, that's not a fortuitous act, because you were in control of tearing down the tree. While the story changes from time to time, the general theme is that an act of God caused the tree to crumble. If you're lucky, it's “just property damage”. If you're not so lucky, it's a death or an injury.

In each and every case, the acts of God are a rare thing. There is no doubt that we must consider the vicissitudes and inclemencies of the weather, and perhaps categorize them as an act of God. However, in the vast majority of cases, this is not a fortuitous act, but a negligence on the part of the owner of the tree. The key to deciding what is considered an act of God is control.

Could a human being have reasonably controlled what happened? When it comes to trees that fall as a result of a storm, the fairly well-established answer is no. The same thing would happen if your neighbor's tree falls and damages other properties, such as the fence, the garage, the pool equipment or the sculpture of a large concrete swan. Even if the winds come from the usual direction, if the roots on the windward side are damaged, the tree may fall. In almost every place, except the most remote and rural, the owner of a tree has a duty to inspect it.

By now, you may be thinking that large trees are too unsafe to grow in urban areas and should be removed. If you've read the more than 500 words in this blog, you can probably already guess what happens when your tree falls on your neighbor's house. In fact, there is a greater obligation to inspect when there are more people and fewer trees than when there are more trees and fewer people. Even with the best tree management regime, there's no guarantee that all trees will stay upright during a storm.

That said, if your neighbor has a tree that looks unhealthy and is a cause for concern, talk to him about it before anything happens. The tree owner only needs to hire a professional arborist to routinely inspect the trees or observe any signs or symptoms of irregularity. In many cases, this diagnosis can be made by email with good images of the peculiar or irregular signs or symptoms found in the tree. Eliminating all the trees around a building can cause wind speed to double, putting roofs, buildings and lives at greater risk.

However, if a dying tree falls, whether during a windstorm or not, the tree should have been maintained or cared for in advance to prevent it from causing such damage. After storms, municipalities often see an increase in requests to remove trees, sometimes perfectly healthy trees. If your neighbor owns a tree, that is, is on your property, you are often held responsible for damage that results to your tree.

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