When a Tree Falls, It is Not Necessarily the Tree Owner's Fault

On a particularly hot, dry, windless summer day in Northern California, a massive limb of a stately old oak tree suddenly cracked, split and fell to the ground.  The tree was growing on the property of Neighbor A, but the limb was overhanging and fell onto the property of Neighbor B.  The failed limb sunk about 6 inches into the grass and landscaping of Neighbor B and damaged a concrete patio, gazebo, and a retaining wall among other claimed damages.  Neighbor B submitted the claim to her own insurance company who reimbursed her for her much of her damages.  She then sued Neighbor A claiming further uncompensated damages not covered by her own policy. Her insurance company also filed a subrogation action against Neighbor A for reimbursement.

Jonz Norine defended Neighbor A and proved that this limb separated from the tree because of a phenomenon known as Sudden Limb Drop (sometimes also called Sudden Branch Drop).  This type of failure has been documented in particularly arid regions like Australia, South Africa, and California.  A tree with apparently sound limbs sometimes absorbs so much water from the surrounding landscaping that the lower, larger limbs become overloaded and pressurized to the point of exploding and detaching from the tree. This can even happen to limbs that may have withstood centuries of storms and high winds - why they should fail on a hot, windless day is often a mystery.  With the aid of an expert arborist, Mr. Norine proved that the limb failure was not Neighbor A's fault, upon whose property the tree grew. Instead, he proved that the tree's roots extended on to Neighbor B's property and that Neighbor B had been overwatering her yard to keep it especially green and lush in the summertime.  The excess water had been absorbed by the tree, directly causing the limb above Neighbor B's property to succumb to the excess load. Hence, Neighbor B caused her own damages.  The Court found Neighbor A was not negligent in the management of his tree and dismissed the claim.