When most people look at trees, legal liability is unlikely the first thing that comes to mind. You may enjoy the shade they provide in the summer and their array of fall colors. However, you should also be on the lookout for liability, particularly for those trees close to your property line.
By way of example, imagine a mid-summer storm comes through sending the large, beautiful maple tree you have enjoyed over the years through your neighbor’s roof and into her living room. In this scenario, normal negligence law should apply. In most cases, your neighbor’s homeowner’s insurance company will be responsible for the loss. However, if you knew or should have known of any pre-existing issues to the tree that made it more susceptible to collapse, you may be responsible. In this case, the homeowner’s insurance company could seek to recoup its losses from you through what is called subrogation.
For example, let us assume the tree is dead or dying from insect infestation that has weakened its stability. In this situation you may be liable to repay the insurance company who satisfied the damage claim, particularly if the deterioration of the tree was readily apparent. On the other hand, if the tree was perfectly healthy or its problems were not apparent, it is unlikely that you would be responsible.
In either case, you would want to turn any claim for subrogation over to your insurance company for a defense and coverage. Whether your insurance company would provide a defense and coverage would depend on the terms of your own policy. Insurance policies, as one may suspect, have many exclusions and exceptions to coverage.
Another common issue that arises from trees on property lines concerns encroachment. Perhaps you have grown annoyed from the untrimmed tree that has partially crossed onto your property and obstructed your view or yard space. While a brief consultation with your neighbor may lead to a quick resolution, you are permitted to prune the encroaching portions of the tree. Of course, hiring a professional is recommended to guard against causing damage to the rest of the tree. You should also have confidence in the location of your property line to avoid creating your own issues of trespass and property damage should you remove too much of the tree.
Finally, there are statutory prohibitions on cutting certain trees along municipal streets and highways. In such cases, prior consultation with local authorities is recommended. Wis. Stat. § 86.03
Be sure to read through your home insurance policy carefully. If you have concerns about trees on your property we recommend having an aroborist inspect them.
Stevens Point information on trees on property lines. https://stevenspoint.com/1294/Trees-Between-Two-Properties