If a Tree Falls in the Suburbs, Who Is Liable?

Virginia has become the latest state to adopt the rule that landowners can be liable when trees on their property cause damage to neighboring properties.

In the past, most states used the "Massachusetts rule," which held that if a tree grew on your property but the branches hung into your neighbor's yard, that neighbor could cut them back as far as the property line. If the roots cracked the neighbor's patio or if the branches ripped their siding, it was their problem. And if the neighbors' pruning killed your tree, you could sue them for damages.

Maryland and the District still follow the Massachusetts rule, according to officials there.

Virginia's 1939 law was slightly different. Under that law, which was overturned yesterday, a landowner could sue a neighboring tree-owner only if the tree was "noxious" and caused "sensible injury." A big problem, however, was that no one ever defined a "noxious tree."

[Note: Post initially accidentally published when incomplete.]