WEST VIRGINIA (WBOY) — If a neighbor’s tree falls on your house in West Virginia, who exactly is at fault, and what can be done about it?

While the likelihood of a tree crashing down on your home isn’t very high, these situations do happen. In fact, with severe weather, the chances of trees and debris crashing into your home are increased.

But who would be at fault if a tree falls on your house?

The answer depends on the circumstances of how that tree fell, according to Melissa Giggenbach, the program director for the West Virginia Innocence Project clinic and professor at the West Virginia University College of Law.

Say severe weather hits West Virginia and a huge storm, like a tornado or hurricane, rips a tree from the ground and that tree falls on your house. Giggenbach said there’s a good chance your home insurance will end up having to pay for that.

Many might assume the neighbor would be at fault, but Giggenbach explained you would need to prove negligence on the neighbor’s behalf.

“In order to have liability against someone, there has to be a duty to protect,” Giggenbach said. “There also has to be a breach of that duty. So how are you possibly going to know and have a duty? You would have to cut down every tree that’s ever on anybody’s property. That’s kind of unreasonable.”

Giggenbach clarified, generally speaking, if there is a tree that is dangerous near your property or someone else’s property, then you have a duty to make sure that that tree doesn’t injure someone. If that tree then falls, that is a breach of that duty. 

She said there are easy ways to spot whether a tree is dangerous before it falls.

“Were there visible limbs broken? Was the tree old? Had the tree lost all of its leaves? Was it obviously decaying? Was there a split down the center? All of those are going to be questions for a jury to determine negligence,” Giggenbach said.

However, Giggenbach notes there are instances when people are part of a homeowner’s association, there may be a written provision prohibiting things like a tree limb protruding over into somebody else’s property. That written rule or ordinance would then provide liability, meaning you might have some proof to bring to a civil court.