AUSTIN (KXAN) — As this week’s ice storm passes through Central Texas, with it comes downed trees and branches. But if a tree falls from your neighbor’s yard into your own, who’s responsible?
An analysis from Bedford-based Hargrave Law explains that under Texas property laws, that onus is categorized two ways, depending on the cause of the tree’s fall: natural causes versus negligence.
Natural causes are classified as when lightning, water or storms cause a tree to fall. When this happens, the neighbor whose yard the tree falls into is responsible for its cleanup and removal. Even if the tree was originally rooted in another neighbor’s yard, the property owner of the place where it’s fallen is ultimately responsible, and the neighbor whose yard the tree comes from isn’t legally liable.
That changes if the cause for the tree’s falling is determined to be due to negligence. If a property owner knew their tree was decaying and didn’t tend to it, they would be liable for any damages caused to another property.
Under the Texas Disaster Manual, it explains compensation isn’t available for “losses, damage, or harm suffered as a result of an act of God,” according to Texas Law Help. These are defined as events exclusively caused by natural causes through which “no amount of human intervention and which no amount of foresight or care, reasonable exercised, could have presented” damages.
There are two exceptions to the “act of God” rule when it comes to compensation. The first is a homeowner whose property is damaged due to high winds or rains may be covered by an insurance policy, while damages caused by flooding might be covered by a separate, specific flood insurance policy.
The second exception is whether this “act of God” damage was due exclusively to a natural disaster, rather than contributing negligence. If a homeowner could have foreseen the damages due to their tree rotting or decaying and chose not to tend to it, they could be held liable, per the Disaster Manual.
[C]onditions created by the defendant’s initial negligence must not have run their course and must have actively contributed to the injuries . . . . If an actor’s conduct is a “substantial factor” in causing harm to another, the fact that he did not foresee nor should have foreseen the extent of the harm or the manner in which it occurred does not preclude liability.Gannett Outdoor Co. of Texas v. Kubeczka
For those in need of assistance, the Texas Department of Insurance can assist consumers and insurers on disaster and post-disaster claims. Locally, Travis County and the City of Austin outlines resources and best practices for debris removal following a storm.