Attorney’s Corner-Legal Tip of the Month
Falling Tree Liability in Georgia – What You Need to Know to Protect Your Clients
Because trees are considered naturally occurring and part of the realty itself, they are treated very differently when it comes to liability for damage to property.
Urban areas treat tree damage much differently than tree damage in rural areas, as trees in urban areas pose more of a danger to persons and property. In rural areas, there is little liability for a land owner whose tree falls onto neighboring property unless that land owner was put on notice that the tree posed a danger to the adjacent property.
Trees in urban areas come under stricter scrutiny, as urban land owners are held to a reasonable standard of care with regard to inspecting trees on their property which could potentially pose a danger to neighboring property. Owners are not required to inspect every tree on their property, but rather only those trees displaying visible signs of rot or decay.
Urban land owners are responsible for injuries caused by a falling tree only if they knew, or reasonably should have known, that the tree posed a danger. They are not expected to know that a tree is rotten as an expert would, but rather as a reasonable person would.
If a tree which is located on a neighbor’s property looks dangerous, the key to making sure the property and tree owner has liability for any damage caused is putting the tree owner on notice, in writing, that the property owner believes the tree to pose a danger to the property owner’s property and request that the neighbor have the tree removed. If the neighbor is put on notice, the courts are much more likely to assign liability as they had notice that the tree posed a danger to neighboring property.
If a tree is located on a boundary line, then each neighbor has a responsibility to maintain his portion of the tree, and they share a joint responsibility for care and maintenance of the tree. However, Georgia law has not addressed clearly whether one property owner has an implied easement onto the adjacent property to employ self help to maintain the tree if the neighbor is not performing his share of the maintenance.
A property owner may trim branches of a tree that cross onto his or her property, but may not physically address any issues with the tree on the neighbor’s property. If the nervous property owner wants to take action to remove the tree, the property owner needs to make sure they have approval of this measure in writing from the neighbor or they will be liable for trespass and damage to property. The best action is to put the neighbor on notice of the dangerous condition of the tree and potential liability for damage, and to make sure there is a record of the notice such as sending it via certified mail.
Source Credit: David J. Burge, Esq. Timber! – Falling Tree Liability in Georgia, Georgia Bar Journal, October 2004