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🌴 Trees: Property Claims, Personal Injury, and Wrongful Death

Confronting tree-related property damage, personal injury, or wrongful death can be challenging, particularly when considering the often-overlooked role of forensic arborists. In this guide, discover their vital contributions in assessing liability and resolving claims, while gaining insights on expert tree analysis, insurance policies, and practical steps for navigating these incidents.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal or insurance advice. The opinions and advice expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of any organizations or entities the author may be affiliated with. The information provided in this article should not be used as a substitute for professional legal or insurance advice. If you have specific legal or insurance questions, please consult a licensed professional in your area.

The creator of that famous line

“I think I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree”

clearly did not manage insurance claims involving property damage, personal injury, or wrongful death. Matters can go from confused to frantic in no time. Trees conjure up significant confusion as adjusters, attorneys, and courts struggle to grasp who owned the tree, was there a duty to inspect, how did the tree fail, could the failure have been prevented, and were there signs and symptoms of impending failure in the before situation of the failure?

Some level of risk must be accepted to experience the benefits that trees provide. We deal with risk, which is the combination of the likelihood of an event and the severity of the potential consequences. To that end comes duty, which is defined by the courts. There is a greater duty to inspect with more people and fewer trees than more trees and fewer people. In most matters, the duty of care to inspect falls upon the owner of the tree.

As to ownership of the tree(s), the rule in all states is that a tree whose trunk stands wholly on the

land of one person belongs to that person. If a trunk straddles the land of two or more people, it

usually belongs to all those property owners. Some states assign ownership as a percentage

represented by the portion of the encroaching trunk across property lines.

When an incident occurs causing damages or worse, a safe base to touch blames the failure of the

tree or tree part on an Act of God, the definition of which rises to an extremely focused result.

Many times, the tree had a pre-existing condition that would have ended with the same result of

failure absence the Act of God. A forensic study of the failure may result in the identification of

the original causation of the failure.

a photo of the author, Joe Samnik
The author, Joe Samnik

Back to duty.

Weather conditions are central to claims. If not an Act of God, weather plays a key role for both

parties in a dispute. A meteorologist must strongly be considered in seeking resolution. Only a meteorologist can opine on weather conditions at the time and location of the incident. An attempt to save money by considering other resources of weather conditions is a bad investment. Extreme weather events occur infrequently. The Beaufort scale categorizing a level 9 has a wind velocity of 47-54 mph. Tree failures, in part or in whole below this level, are sometimes associated with pre-existing defects or other conditions that affect stability.

Pre-existing conditions associated with tree failure must be open and obvious to an assessor looking for defects in a tree – the duty to inspect. The American National Standards Institute, ANSI A 300, Part 9, Tree Risk Assessment lists 3 categories of inspection to determine risk. A Level I inspection is relegated to large populations of trees and is accomplished by a “windshield” inspection, a walk-by, or a fly-over. The assessor is looking for obvious defects in the trees such as death or decline.

Have you heard of a Forensic Arborist?

  • Yes, I have!

  • No, I haven't.