LEGAL CORNER: If my neighbor’s rotten tree falls on my garage, who is responsible?
Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) - Legal Corner answers viewers’ civil legal questions.
QUESTION: My neighbor’s rotten tree is probably going to hit my garage when it falls. I have taken pictures and contacted him, but the tree remains. Is there anything else that can be done?
ANSWER: It is an excellent strategy to ask us before the damage is done. On multiple occasions, we at the SWLA Law Center have been contacted after a tree has damaged someone’s property, and the tree owner (or the owner’s insurance company) refuses to pay. Normally, when a tree falls and causes damage to a neighbor, the defense is that it was an “act of God” or force majeure. The exception is when the owner knew or should have known that the tree was defective.
It is explained in the Caples case: Thus, to establish liability for damage caused by a defective thing (i.e.—a fallen tree), the property owner must demonstrate that the tree owner should have known, in the exercise of reasonable care, of the defective tree that caused the damage, that the damage could have been prevented by the exercise of reasonable care, and that the tree owner failed to exercise such reasonable care. Caples v. USSA Ins. Co., 806 So.2d 148, 150 (La. App. 1 Cir. 2001).
So, you have an excellent opportunity to notify the neighbor of the defective tree before any damage is done, almost certainly eliminating that defense. So, you should notify the owner in writing and in any other way that can be proven, that the tree is defective and that they will be responsible for any damage caused by its falling.
QUESTION: I have been paying taxes on family property for years without any help from family. Now that I am getting older I would like to know how can I acquire the property in my name?
ANSWER: It depends on who owns the property right now. Are you a co-owner? Then you would simply buy out the other family members. If the property belonged to someone who is deceased – and you are an heir – then you would have to do a succession placing the heirs or legatees in possession.
Unfortunately, you are not owed any of the taxes back. By paying the taxes, you simply stopped the land from being sold at a sheriff’s sale.
Once the succession is done, then you can see who or if any other heirs would be interested in donating or selling the land to you. When co-owners do not agree on how to get along, any of the co-owners can file a lawsuit to partition the property.
If the property cannot be divided up into approximately equal-sized lots, then a co-owner could force a sale of the property and cause it to be auctioned off at the courthouse steps. This option is expensive and should only be used as a last resort.
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