San Diego Storms: Trees, Water, and Liability

…on that day all the fountains of the great deep were broken up,

and the windows of heaven were opened.

-Genesis

Introduction

Fierce winds and a sunless sky move outside my window as I write.

San Diego has experienced several days of severe winter storms; more are expected. South Bay, Mission Valley, Sorrento Valley, and La Jolla were especially affected. Fallen trees and flood waters are a common occurrence.

Here are a few things San Diego residents should know about both. Note that assumptions are made and only general information is provided.

Who is Responsible When a Tree Falls?

It depends. Possibly the owner, but likely no one.

Generally, responsibility belongs to the owner. If a tree completely originates on one person’s property, then that person owns the tree. See Civil Code 833. It doesn’t matter where roots and branches extend. But if the tree straddles a property line, then ownership belongs to the neighbors. See Civil Code 834.

California law requires landowners (including landowners who have trees on their land) to exercise reasonable care. If it can be shown that the tree fell because the landowner failed to exercise reasonable care, then a claim could be brought against the landowner. Best speak with a San Diego Personal Injury Lawyer or San Diego Property Damage Lawyer to determine whether there’s grounds for negligence.

There have been several instances of fallen trees in the news. Here’s one. Here’s another. And another.

These trees appear to have fallen due to heavy winds. If there is no evidence of owner negligence, however, then no one is responsible when the tree falls, no matter if the tree fell on a person or on a car. But if there are grounds for negligence then the owner is responsible. Grounds for negligence include prior notice that the tree was diseased or rotten.

I also discuss tree liability in this interview from last year, when winter storms battered San Diego: High winds topple hundreds of trees.

And read this blog post about the value of damaged trees: What Is The Value Of Damages Trees in California?

Is Flooding Covered?

Flooding is only covered if you have flood insurance from NFIP.

What you are seeing in the news are classic examples of flooding. I define it here: North Park Water Main Break. I talk about it with FOX5 here: Attorney offers advice to North Park Flood victims. And I blog about it here: El Niño Cometh: Understanding your Homeowners Policy. And again talk about it here: Flooding around county leaves residents devastated.

You are not covered for flood damage unless you have flood insurance.

Questions? Contact Me for a free consultation.

Evan Walker

Evan W. Walker is a La Jolla attorney who has practiced law since 2008. He has practiced law throughout California, Connecticut, and Louisiana.

Evan worked for and defended insurance companies during the first 7 years of his practice. Since 2015, he has represented people with personal injury and property damage claims and insurance disputes.

Evan’s practice is devoted to serious personal injury claims and catastrophic property damage claims. Areas of focus include security claims against bars and other businesses, government tort claims, fire and flood claims, and inverse condemnation. On behalf of clients, Evan has fought insurance firms, international companies, cities, bars, and casinos.

Evan regularly shares his expertise with other attorneys by teaching courses on insurance and inverse condemnation. He has taught several continuing legal education courses to Attorney Credits, a nationwide CLE company, and ProLawCLE, another nationwide CLE company. He also contributes to various podcasts and publications.

Associations:

  • Member, State Bar of California
  • Member, San Diego Bar Association
  • Member, Consumer Attorneys of California
  • Member, Consumer Attorneys of San Diego
  • Member, La Jolla Bar Association
  • Member, La Jolla Village Merchants Association
  • Member, San Diego Chamber of Commerce