Own property in Massachusetts? Does that property have trees on it? If you’ve answered “yes” to those two questions, then how about one more? Have you had a tree risk assessment performed on your trees within the past year? If you have, that’s great, congratulations! You get to enjoy the benefits of knowing you have secured yourself against negligent liability and get to reap the additional benefits of sustaining healthy strong trees on your property. If you happened to answer “no” then you may want to keep reading to see what risks you may be unknowingly exposing yourself to.
The Native Tree Society, ranks the following tree species as the most popular trees in Massachusetts: Tulip Poplar, Bitternut Hickory, North Red Oak, Black Cherry and Striped Maple. All of which grow on average to 100 Ft. in height. Trees, just like any other plants we own on our properties such as our lawns, shrubs, and gardens need to be attended to and properly maintained. Trees are by far the largest plant species we own making it reasonability understandable that it’s important for us to ensure their good health.
Healthy trees often-times succumb to pests or disease and deterioration of the tree’s health can happen rather quickly where the limbs or the entire tree becomes compromised. Often times the damage is done internally where the average individual won’t notice any obvious signs in the demise of the tree’s health. Trees can also sustain injury from storms for example that break off vital limbs or branches. Trees can be located in the wrong place, get hit and struck by machinery or vehicles causing external injury to the tree’s bark exposing the tender inner portion of the tree to the elements. There are also multiple different types of tree boring insects that infect trees, taking up residence and slowly killing the tree over time. All of these mentioned scenarios will take a healthy tree and turn it into a hazard. According to, Mr. Jeremy Rappoport, Rappoport Development Consulting Services LLC, who writes on the HG.org website,
"A tree is defined as being a hazard when it’s unhealthy and in the event it falls, will strike a target of some kind."
That target could be homes, garages, cars, out buildings and people. The target could be on your own property or a neighbor’s.
When these large 100 Ft. hazardous trees fall and strike a target there is most likely going to be significant damage or loss sustained. The Arboristsite.com notes that the average 100 Ft. tree can weigh in at about 3-4 tons. With that kind of weight, you know the damage is going to be substantial. Hazardous trees or large portions there-of, typically fall during weather-related events with increased winds such as snow storms, blizzards, heavy rain or thunderstorms, also known as the worst times possible. When a hazardous tree strikes a target, let’s say your home for example or worse your neighbor’s home. Insurance companies get called, claims are filed and in some cases lawyers are brought in. There is a significant difference in the outcome of a claim when a hazardous tree has fallen versus a healthy tree falls. Hazardous trees are considered a nuisance and the property owner is liable for any damages. The MA Law Forum states that in Massachusetts when a healthy tree falls, however, it is more likely going to be considered “An act of God” where no one is considered at fault.
Massachusetts Attorney Robert Nislick comments that courts in Massachusetts have ruled when an unhealthy or hazardous tree has caused loss or damage the responsibility falls upon the property owner of the tree. The tree’s owner is whoever property the trunk grows out of. In instances of trees growing on property or boundary lines then the two owners would be considered “tenants in common” in relation the ownership of the tree.
The best advice for property owners with trees would be to be certain your trees are healthy and that they do not have any underlying conditions that deem them as being hazardous. Resulting in any kind of damage where you will be required to pay out of pocket. Protect yourself today and have your trees assessed by a trained arborist who can correctly determine the health of your trees. Have a tree risk assessment performed on your trees annually to ensure the safety and integrity of your property.
The Native Tree Society, http://www.nativetreesociety.org/fieldtrips/mass/big_trees_ma_1999.htm
Mr. Jeremy Rappoport, Rappoport Development Consulting Services LLC, https://www.hg.org/article.asp?id=20246
MA Law Forum, http://www.malawforum.com/content/trees-overhanging-property-line
The Arborist Site, http://www.arboristsite.com/community/threads/tree-weight.13704/
Robert Nislick, Attorney at Law, “Trusted and Experience Massachusetts Attorney, https://nislick.com/2015/09/09/frequently-asked-questions-about-tree-law-in-massachusetts/