The Healthy Tree
In natural disasters, trees fall. Sometimes, the tree remains, but heavy branches fall. This can happen to healthy trees and it can happen to unhealthy trees. It's often a matter of whether the tree was in the wrong place at the wrong time -- wind velocity in a particular area; amount of rainfall; whether the tree is at low altitude or high altitude.
The Unhealthy Tree
Most of us know little about the trees that are on our properties. We don't know when our trees are feeling blah, when they have a sore throat, or when they are truly sick. Although healthy trees are prone to problems in a hurricane or other natural disaster, unhealthy ones are perhaps even more prone to problems. If a tree is obviously unhealthy (i.e., rotting), there may be a duty to do something about it.
Your Neighbor's Tree
These are the trees that seem to cause the most problems. Unlike your own trees (about which you know little and don't seem to much care to learn), you probably believe your neighbor has the duty to scour every inch of his or her land and determine the relative health of each and every tree and, more to the point, each and every limb of that tree. Trees are free-spirited souls, refusing to abide by strict property lines. Often the trunk is right on the property line, and even more often the limbs seem to scatter this way and that, sometimes crossing two or even three property lines.
Who Is Responsible For a Falling Tree Limb?
In most cases, in order to assign liability for a falling tree limb that damages your property, the owner of that tree would have to have been negligent. In order to establish negligence, there is a four-part inquiry: (1) Is there a duty of care? (2) If so, what that duty breached? (3) If so, was the breach of that duty of care the proximate (direct) cause of the injury? (4) If so, were there damages? The problem is that there may not be a duty of care. If one knows that a tree is unhealthy, that might support an argument that the tree owner has a duty to do something about it. But most of the time, even an unhealthy tree looks healthy. And checking each and every tree on one's property is just not something one is going to do on a weekly basis, especially because even if the tree trunk appears healthy, that part where two limbs join 50 feet above the ground may not be as healthy.
So, What To Do?
Well, this is the kind of reason that you have insurance. Make sure to file a claim with the insurer promptly. If you make the claim by telephone, be sure to follow up with a letter.