Perspective Newsletter
Spring 2015
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Dangerous Trees

Tree fallen on backyard fence

This month, the Northwest marks the 55th anniversary of the Columbus Day windstorm, which the National Weather Service named Washington's worst weather disaster of the 20th century. The storm claimed more than 50 lives from Washington to California, pummeled Portland with 120 mph winds, and inflicted millions of dollars in property damage as trees crashed through homes.

Makes you think twice about that big old fir tree in the backyard, doesn't it?

Still, in a PEMCO Poll, fewer than half of respondents said they routinely check their yard for tipoffs to tree trouble, including:

  • pushed-up soil at the base of a tree
  • wood shavings or borings from insect activity
  • leaning, lopsided, or V-forked trunks
  • history of breakage
  • cracks and hollows
  • signs of rot or disease

If you spot any of those, call a certified arborist to help you assess the risk and explore options for making the tree safer.


If, sadly, a tree must come down, hire contractors with care. Tree removal is dangerous work, and you'll want to make sure the company is licensed, bonded, and insured. Beware of companies that recommend topping trees rather than thinning branches so the wind can blow through. Topping weakens trees and invites rot and insects.

Before cutting, check local ordinances, property covenants, and any restrictions from your homeowners association. A permit may be required. Also, make sure your signed contract covers you for any liability. Circumstances like cutting a tree near a bald eagle's nest or removing trees that turn out to be on a neighbor's property can result in fines, restitution payments, or even jail time.

If my tree falls on a neighbor's house, who pays?

Likely your neighbor's insurance since, generally, tree owners aren't liable for "acts of nature" like windstorms.

However, if you knew or should have known there was a problem with your tree, you could be held responsible – so it pays to check!