Is a mandatory evacuation really mandatory?
We have all heard countless stories of people who didn’t evacuate and had to be rescued. A few days before Superstorm Sandy hit, Governor Christie issued an Executive Order, declaring a State of Emergency and ordering a mandatory evacuation for those on the barrier islands. As we all know from the news, many people did not leave and were rescued. Doesn’t mandatory mean mandatory? Do you really have to go?
Technically, under NJ law, if you don’t abide by a mandatory evacuation order, you can be guilty of a misdemeanor and imprisoned for up to six months. Or you may be fined up to $1,000. And if you’re really unlucky, you might get slapped with both. But, if you’re reading this and you’re one of those people who didn’t leave, don’t fret too much yet. It remains to be seen in the aftermath of the storm whether anyone will actually be charged or made to pay a fine for staying on the islands. Just because a law is on the books doesn’t mean it will be enforced. However, it is possible that if you don’t leave, you’ll be in some legal trouble. So next time we have a major storm, don’t try to be the hero, pack up your things, and evacuate.
Your tree falls onto your neighbor’s house during the storm----are you liable?
Of course, nothing in the law is a simple yes or no. This is no exception. The answer is…maybe!
Let’s pretend for a moment that your neighbor either doesn’t have homeowners insurance or he doesn’t file a claim. Your neighbor hauls you in to court to pay for the damage your tree caused to his house. Superstorm Sandy would be considered an “act of God” under the law. An act of God in New Jersey is an unusual, unexpected, extraordinary occurrence of nature. If the tree on your property were a healthy tree that just so happened, because of Hurricane Sandy’s strength, to be lifted out of the ground and tossed onto your neighbor’s house, you likely wouldn’t be liable. Essentially, if you were not negligent, you can blame the Hurricane, and the court will too. However, if the tree were unhealthy, or you weren’t properly maintaining it, regardless of the fact that Sandy was a once in a lifetime storm, you may be liable for your negligence regarding your tree.
However, if his insurance company has reason to believe your negligence was a factor in your tree crashing into his house, your neighbor’s insurance company may try to collect money from you. That process is called subrogation and is a whole other topic for another time.