Tree removal, damage claims not clear cut

Thanks to an abundant tree canopy, Hurricane Irma left a lot of trees uprooted or damaged in her wake after barreling through Jacksonville Sept. 11. Palm trees, pine trees and live oaks abound in the historic districts, and many were tossed about in yards and onto streets.

The liability for damages and cleanup is often not clear cut.

When a tree falls from private property onto public property, such as the street or right-of-way, the City will cut the fallen tree out of the public right-of-way up to the beginning of the property owner’s line. Disposing the remainder of the tree is the responsibility of the property owner, according to Tia Ford, spokesperson for the City of Jacksonville. “The City’s work is limited to the right-of-way.”

When a tree planted in the City right-of-way, such as the area between the street and the sidewalk, falls onto adjacent private property, the City is responsible for the entire tree.

“Provided there is no damage to private property, the City’s contractor will secure a hold harmless agreement from the property owner before accessing the private property for the tree removal,” Ford stated. “If there is private property damage, Risk Management will facilitate both the tree removal and damage claim.”

When it comes to damage claims, it depends on insurance policies.

If a visibly dead or dying tree falls from one private property to another, then the owner of the tree is potentially at fault, said State Farm agent Cam Anderson. The owner’s liability policy should cover the claimant’s damages.

“However, if Mother Nature decides to push down a tree [onto a neighbor’s property], then it is not the owner’s fault,” Anderson said. “In this case, the tree’s owner’s insurance policy would cover their own damages and the [neighboring] claimant’s policy would cover the claimant’s damages. Both parties would be responsible for their own deductibles.”

If a tree falls and causes no damage to building, fence, driveway, etc. then there is no coverage for removing the tree debris, Anderson said.

Removing fallen trees can be costly, depending on tree height, diameter, number of limbs, size of root structure, location and ease of removal, but what it ultimately boils down to is time and, as Early Piety said, “Time is money.”

According to Piety, president of Specialty Tree Surgeons, Inc., a tree down in the front yard next to the curb won’t take nearly as much time as a tree in the backyard.

“If the tree is in the backyard, through a little gate, behind the green house, on the other side of the pool, and it has fallen on the fence, and you have to cut it up in little bitty pieces to get it out of the backyard, that takes considerably more time to clean up, therefore the cost is higher,” said Piety.
For homeowners chomping at the bit to get trees removed, Piety said to be patient.

“We will get to you as soon as we can. The first priority is to get all the trees off of houses. This stage is nearly done,” he said. “The second priority is clear driveways and entrance ways so the homeowner can have access to his property for repair. This stage is nearly done also. The last priority is the yard. I know people want their yard cleaned up as soon as possible, but with so many tree down it just takes a while to get to them all. It’s like leaving a football game – everybody can’t leave at once.”

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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