neighbor burned many of my trees

iamdouglasFebruary 16, 2009

Hello out there. . .

I have a problem with a neighbor. (There should be a "problem neighbor" catagory.) In April of 08 she was burning debris on our shared property line within 5 feet of my woods. Wind was blowing in the direction of my property and she left the fire unattended. My woods caught fire and about 1 acre of trees was lost. It has been a year and I'm not sure what trees are going to dye. I am still waiting for her insurance company to come out with their arborist. I hired an arborist to apraise the damage and he came up with a 5 year recovery program since it will probably take that long to realize all of the lose due to insect attack and fire damage to the stressed trees. So far it is evident that at least 100 trees have been lost.

Needless to say I want all of those trees replaced with trees as close to the size of the trees that she killed due to her recklessness.

Has anyone here had anything similar to my situation happen and what kind of recourse can I expect? The cost that my arborist came up with was a staggering figure.

The fire came to within 30 feet of my house so this is my front yard so to speak. It took two fire companys and the DNR to stop the fire. The fire marshall labeled the fire as accidental but acknowledged that she was responsible for the fire.

What would my chances of recovering my loss in court be?

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you should be speaking with an attorney. i would do it now, cause since this has already been almost a year ago you could end up letting the time lapse that the law allows you to file suit.

as far as the trees being killed, it depends on the type. around ehre they do controlled burns to get of brush. the trees blacken but actually are healthy. pines/etc tend to be toast though!

    Bookmark   February 16, 2009 at 2:19PM
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Thanks for your rapid reply. . .
I have contacted an environmental attorney and he says I have three years to file a suit. I'm waiting on the insurance companies arborist to come out here. I'll see what they have to say.

I am afraid that the insurance company and the courts for that mater won't cover damages to a natural setting. I want more than sapplings for the full grown trees that will probably die. I'm sick with concern for my home.

Thank you again.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2009 at 2:49PM
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Why not contact your insurance company. They would probably determine what is a reasonable replacement and arrange to have it done and then they will go after your neighbors insurance company to recover the loss.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2009 at 8:27PM
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What type and size(diameter and height) of trees are we talking about?

    Bookmark   February 17, 2009 at 8:24AM
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hey guys. . .
You'll love this. This pyro-maniac neighbor and I have the same insurance company and even the same agent. (small town living don't cha know)

The trees that I'm pushing for are 3 to 20ft american holly (75 of them) and 80ft oak and pine (30 of them). This fire involved about an acre of my front yard. Grrrrrrrr.

I want the trees replaced with trees comparable (or as close to comparable) in size to the trees lost. I don't want a 5ft. sapling replacing a 40ft. oak.

The question is if a neighbor trashes mature trees can I expect full size tree replacement. There are tree companies that can place 30ft. trees. Has anyone come up to this kind of problem?

    Bookmark   February 17, 2009 at 10:23AM
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I read about this site called 'neighbors from hell' and you may want to post the question over there. People on the site go there to vent and get advice on neighborhood problems. I believe it's free to sign up, and there are multiple questions about property issues discussed there.
I think your insurance agent is intentionally dragging his/her feet on this issue. It should not take a year for an arborist to come out and give an opinion. I do hope you've taken hundreds of photos.

Here is a link that might be useful: neighbors from hell

    Bookmark   February 17, 2009 at 1:17PM
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It may take a year or more to know if the large trees are damaged or dead.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2009 at 2:01PM
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The hollies probably can be replaced easily at that height.

But good luck replacing 80 ft. oaks. You can't transplant those with machinery, and even if you could they'd likely die anyway.

So you're going to have to go for some sort of "equivalent" in exchange. What I've seen typically is that you have one-for-one caliper measurement replacement (this is in the context of tree removal for building, when there's a requirement of no net loss of trees). That is, you measure the circumference of a tree at a set height (say 4 feet) and if it's 30 inches, then you replace with 3 10 inchers, 2 15 inchers, etc.. In your case, you're looking at a massive number of trees.

Because you can't buy and sell 80 foot trees, it's hard to establish their value. Clearly it's not just the lumber value, although that's something. Experts can use "hedonic pricing" models, where they compare the value/price of a property with trees versus without, and establish an implicit price. But even that is not easy.

As for the fire marshall, I think ruling it an "accident" means they didn't intend to set the trees on fire. But he was admitting they were negligent, which for liability purposes is basically going to be the same thing.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2009 at 5:54PM
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unless this fire was long lived, i don't see it really hurting a 80ft oak tree. i know they are tough trees, we have tons of them around here and you can't kill them if you try.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2009 at 9:24PM
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Thank you folks. . .
Thanks "cearab". I'm going to check out the "neighbors from hell" site.

That's good info "heimert". A lot of what you have to offer is language that the arborist that I am working with uses. He made extensive caliper measurements on the trees lost. I will keep in mind the equivalent concept.

I am in Snow Hill, Md. You all have given me a sense of hope which helps.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2009 at 8:27AM
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Hi: In my experience, I believe you need to hire what's called a "public insurance adjuster". After a house fire, my cousin advised me to do it. I didn't because the adjuster my insurance company sent appeared to be working with me. Then, I caught her lying. I had a large amount of canned & frozen food in the basement that she saw and told me to inventory it & throw it away. My sister was there with me. When I turned in the inventory list, she accused me of making it all up. When I saw how she hassled me about the food, I realized this was just the beginning of my troubles (and it was). I hired a public adjuster and eventually got a fair settlement. They take a share of the settlement, which I resented, but they do all the negotiating for you, which was a HUGE relief. If you are living out in the sticks, you will have to find one in the nearest big city, but, in my experience, it will be the best thing. I think you may find going this route will be cheaper than hiring a lawyer. I know your mind is whirling with stress thinking about all the what-ifs. Why not make a few phone calls & see if hiring an adjuster of your own will help. Best wishes!

    Bookmark   February 18, 2009 at 7:29PM
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"mommyandme" writes. . .
""In my experience, I believe you need to hire what's called a "public insurance adjuster""

Thank you for your input. I've given that some thought but I think that I will contact my attorney before I go the alternate insurance broker route.

Thanks again.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2009 at 11:35AM
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iamdouglas, because you and the neighbor have not only the same insurance company but the same agent, you need to talk to your lawyer. The insurance company is going to choose the least expensive option.

Talk to your lawyer. Before you fight this further though, you might want to look for another insurance company first because the one you have will probably drop you.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2009 at 6:00PM
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You may wish to contact your state's office which looks after the regulation of insurance companies. The link has all of them plus complaints against companies and other information.

Here is a link that might be useful: State Gov - Insurance Offices

    Bookmark   March 19, 2009 at 7:03PM
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Is a fire permit required in your town, and did your neighbor have one? In my town in Massachusetts, open burning is allowed only during certain times of the year, with a valid permit for a specific date, subject to appropriate wind and weather conditions for that date. Fires must at least 75 FEET from any building and must be started by 10 a.m. and out by 4 a.m. The person with the permit must have a hose that extends to the burn site, and the fire CANNOT BE LEFT UNATTENDED. (There may be other restrictions -- I've never applied for a permit because there's no suitable spot on my 1/2 acre lot, except in the middle of the lawn.) I expect that most communities would have similar or even stricter restrictions on open burning, especially in areas prone to wildfire and drought. You should be able to call your fire department to find out if your neighbor had a valid permit for the date of the fire, and what restrictions should have been in place. I doubt that any community allows unattended fires, and she may have violated other laws as well. Starting a fire just 30 feet from a house is probably illegal in your town. I would talk to a lawyer about suing her for negligence. I would also call her and her/your insurance company EVERY DAY until they come out and access the damage. Finally, I would ask a realtor or your bank to appraise your property to find out how much the fire damaged lowered the value of your property. (This could be much more than the cost to replace the burned trees, expensive as that will be.)

    Bookmark   April 4, 2009 at 2:33PM
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