I keep anticipating the sound of chainsaws over at our neighbours. They, like us, have large lawns and large old trees. Unlike us, they have not been at all lucky. We lost a few trees up by the house during the hurricane last year, but all but one were minor points in the landscape. Now down in the woods, near that old willow in the last post, it looks like a giant’s game of pick-up sticks: a set of black locusts going every which way (and all are hung). But those locusts were all exhbiting serious structural issues already. However, we haven’t* lost any of the trees on the lawn.
Our neighbours, however, have lost four sugar maples and big copper beech. None were outwardly problematic in their structure, but they were all about as big as they ought to get. I have some theories, unproven of course.
First: spacing, trees are evolved to work together. Their roots are intertwined, and if their canopies touch it would stand to reason that the wind loads are, if not less, at least distributed. Extremely wide spacing forces them to stand and fall alone. The trees on our lawn are much more closely spaced, creating a high closed canopy.
Secondly: competitive growth. One of the more interesting points a state forester mentioned to me once was the Sugar Maples are designed to grow in a dense forest situation. Put them in a full sun situation and they can grow too big, too full, and too fast overtaxing the strength of their wood and their roots. It stands to reason that certain other tree species might be better adapted to standing alone; anything requiring full sun to get started, or evolved to handle fire, or perhaps flooding?
Lastly: over-fertilization. Our neighbours fertilize their lawn, heavily, the previous owners never did. This also helps create lush growth in the trees. But, it would seem to me, if the tree is already as big as it ought to get, mechanically, than a sudden spurt of heavy new growth, which catches the wind and the water, might just be too much.
Theories anyway. Probably half-baked.

*I know, I know I just jinxed us, we’ll get a storm tonight and down they’ll come.