Whether from a huge storm or a small gust of wind, trees and branches fall on cars every day. If your car happens to be one of them, determining who is at fault can be overwhelming.
There are several different questions to answer to determine liability when a tree falls on a vehicle. Did the tree have any visible defects, or did it appear perfectly healthy? Did the tree belong to a neighbor, or was it on city land?
When faced with a situation where a tree has fallen on your vehicle, we recommend you contact an experienced premises liability lawyer. At Bell & Pollock P.C., we can help you determine liability and negotiate with insurance companies. Call our office for a free case evaluation to get started.
A City Tree Fell on My Car – Now What?
Legal responsibility varies based on the ownership of the property that the tree was on. If a city tree falls on your car, that means that the property, in this case, the tree, was government-owned. To proceed with the legal process, you will have to file a claim with the government. In Colorado, a damage claim must be submitted in writing within 182 days, or about six months, of the damage. The specific timeframe to file varies in different states.
Different states also give the government varying levels of immunity. Often the government is held to a lower standard of accountability for a tree falling on their property than a private citizen would be.
If you decide to file a claim with the government due to a tree or tree branch falling on your vehicle, please contact one of our premises liability lawyers who will be able to walk you through the process.
Example of a City Tree Falling on a Car
In 2017, there was a windstorm in nearby Nebraska in which city trees fell on several residents’ cars. In this circumstance, the city government did not have as much liability as a private property owner would. When it comes to damage to vehicles due to city infrastructure, whether caused by a tree or a pothole, it is exceptionally hard to prove that the government was negligent, as you cannot confirm that they were aware of the potential hazard.
Does Insurance Cover a Tree Branch Falling on a Car?
Depending on the circumstances, your auto insurance may cover the cost of a tree branch falling on your car. However, if the tree branch fell from a tree on another person’s property, it may instead be covered by that property owner’s insurance.
There are also several situations where an incident would not be covered under any party’s insurance policy. Consulting with a premises liability lawyer or car accident attorney can help you determine how to proceed.
Acts of God and Insurance Coverage
Unfortunately, a tree can fall on a car due to a natural disaster or major weather event. These events can constitute an act of God under some insurance policies. An act of God is an event that no person could have controlled.
Weather events categorized as acts of God by most insurance policies are based on how likely they are to occur in a particular geographical region. For example, damages from a snowstorm may be covered under acts of God provisions here in Colorado. However, it would be very unlikely for insurance to snowstorm damages for a policyholder in Florida.
My Neighbor’s Tree Fell on My Car
If a neighbor’s tree falls on your car, they may be at fault. Your neighbor could be liable if they made a conscious choice to change something on their property that made it more likely for the tree to fall. One example of this is if your neighbor cut down several trees in one area of their yard and left just a few remaining. These trees would now be more susceptible to falling, which could create a hazardous environment.
Your neighbor could also be liable if a tree that fell would have been considered a hazardous tree. A hazardous tree would have a significant, often visible defect, and be in an area where it could fall on a person or vehicle. Even if the issue with the tree was not caused by the homeowners directly, it could be considered negligence if they did not address the issue. Examples of hazardous defects on trees can include:
- Dead branches
- Splits in tree trunks
- Decayed areas in the trunk
- Mushrooms or fungi growing near the base of the tree
- Location of the tree
Of course, perfectly healthy trees may also have these attributes. Anyone in doubt of the level of hazard of their tree should try to prevent a potential incident rather than reacting to it after the fact.
Example of a Tree Liability Case
A recent Colorado case regarding premises liability law and its relevance to trees is Love v. Klosky, which was decided by the Colorado Supreme Court in 2018. In this case, there was a catalpa tree on the property line of two different homeowners with adjacent lawns. One family wanted to cut down the tree, as branches from the tree fell on their property, and the other family wanted to keep it.
The court referenced materials that were several centuries old and decided that the owners of the property on which the tree originally grew were the only people who could choose whether to remove the tree. This family wanted to keep the tree as it was.
However, the court elaborated that, for this and future cases, if a single tree that is on two different homeowner’s properties could be considered a hazard, either property owner has the right to cut down the tree or remove branches.
If you have been in a situation where a tree fell on your car in Colorado, contact an experienced premises liability lawyer at Bell & Pollock P.C. Call (720) 613-6736 for a free consultation to understand your legal options.