By Keith Turner
It is fact that tree roots can cause tremendous amount of property damages, including lifting and cracking sidewalks and other hardscape, clogging and even destroying plumbing lines, and even literally lifting a house’s foundation.
Since 1886, California caselaw has provided that a property owner is essentially strictly liable for damages caused by tree roots and branches that encroach on another’s land. It generally does not matter whether the current property owner planted or maintained the trees. California statutory law since 1872 provides that “Trees whose trunks stand wholly upon the land of one owner belong exclusively to him, although their roots grow into the land of another.”
It sounds like a harsh basis for legal liability, but a property owner’s insurance usually covers damages caused by roots from a tree on the owner’s property. Property insurance, including homeowner’s insurance policies, defines insurance coverage a being for “property damages” claims. Obviously, tree roots cause property damages.
I have seen every insurance company cover “third-party” tree roots damages claims, which means that if roots from a neighbor’s tree damages your property, such as clogging your drain or cracking or lifting your sidewalk, the neighbor’s insurance company would pay and settle the claim.
Well State Farm Insurance Company has apparently been taking a different position. In a at least one claim, it required proof of “negligence” in order to provide coverage for tree roots damages. See letter below. According to the Claims Adjuster, State Farm has taken the same position in other matters.
In that matter, both the insured and neighbor were insured by State Farm. In other words, State Farm insured both neighbors. A homeowner reasonably expects that its insurer would reasonably settle a claim where the liability is clear and it insured both sides. State Farm does not believe it owes any such duty where it coincidentally insured both sides. That does not make sense to.
We would like to hear from you if your insurance company imposed some standard of liability for damages caused by tree roots that is contrary to California law. All communications to us will be kept as 100% confidential unless you agree otherwise.
Grandona v. Lovdal (1886) 70 Cal. 161, 162
Bonde v. Bishop (1952) 112 Cal.App.2d 1, 5-6
Booska v. Patel (1994) 24 Cal.App.4th 1786, 1788
Crance v. Hems (1936) 17 Cal.App.2d 450, 453
Fick v. Nilson (1950) 98 Cal.App.2d 683, 685
But see: Lussier v. San Lorenzo Valley Water Dist. (1988) 206 Cal.App.3d 92, 101-102 & fn. 5 and authorities cited.)
Contact Turner Law Firm about your tree root issue: