This is Florida, we have sun and plenty of rain that nourishes plant life throughout the state. As plants and trees grow, problems do too – dropped fruit, branches, discoloration and falling limbs to name a few.
Unfortunately for the owner dealing with the issue, under the basics of Florida law, your neighbor is not liable to you for any nuisance caused by overhanging branches or roots, falling leaves, seeds or fruit. Florida courts have explained that “it is wiser to leave the individual to protect himself, if harm results to him from this exercise of another’s right to use his property in a reasonable way, than to subject that other to the annoyance, and the public to the burden, of actions at law, which would be likely to be innumerable and, in many instances, purely vexatious.” Gallo v. Heller, 512 So. 2d 215, 216 (Fla. 3d DCA 1987). The Courts have consistently held that the owner subject to the nuisance has a right to trim back the vegetation, including limbs and branches, to the property line even if the trimming kills the tree or shrub.
But, what if there’s more than just a nuisance? Then the Florida courts view the situation differently. If a tree or limb falls and causes personal injury or significant property damage, the tree owner may be liable for negligence because the property owner has a duty to maintain safe premises. The health of the tree will help determine which landowner is responsible for damages to property. For example, if the tree is dead and falls on a neighbor’s property and damages the neighbor’s home, the owner the property where the tree originally was located is likely responsible for damages. However, if a healthy live tree falls on a neighbor’s home and damages the home, the neighbor may be responsible for his own damages.
So, who’s tree is it? The answer isn’t always as clear as you would think when the tree straddles a boundary line. There are three ways to determine if the tree is a boundary tree. You should get a copy of the original survey, determine if there is a marker listed in the deed or finally have a new survey done – essentially, when in doubt, call in the professionals.
These cases can be complex and cause permanent damage between relationships of neighbors. Before you proceed, remember contact an experienced attorney at E.A. Zebell, PL to discuss your options.