If a Tree Falls … Are You Insured?

With the East Coast getting slammed by Hurricane Sandy this week, it might be time to brush up on proper homeowners insurance. For instance, do you know who's responsible for paying for the damage caused by falling trees?

With the East Coast getting slammed by Hurricane Sandy this week, it might be time to brush up on proper homeowners insurance. For instance, do you know who’s responsible for paying for the damage caused by falling trees?

“That topic creates as much confusion as anything related to insurance,” says Janet Scott-Buckley, a veteran agent with Harrington Insurance Agency in North Andover, Mass. “Most people don’t understand that if your neighbor’s tree falls and damages your house, shed, fence, pool or lawn, it’s most often your problem, not your neighbor’s. You have to file a claim with your homeowners insurance company, and the usual deductible applies.”

Similarly, you’re not responsible for any damage your falling trees cause to your neighbor’s property.

An exception to this is whether you or your neighbor could be held responsible for the damages due to negligence. Let’s say your neighbor’s tree is rotted and in danger of falling. You asked your neighbor to remove it, and the neighbor refused. One day it topples and hits your house.

Then, you’d have a good case your neighbor is responsible for the damages, Scott-Buckley says. You’d need a copy of your letter to your neighbor; having photos and a tree specialist’s opinion would help. His or her home insurer might agree to pay for all the damage to your property plus clean-up costs and there’d be no deductible. State laws regarding negligence vary.

Paying for the removal of fallen trees from your property is another issue. Most standard home policies provide up to $500 for tree removal, but you can get more coverage for a small extra premium, she says.

What about the cost of replacing damaged trees, shrubs and other plants? There’s no coverage for wind damage, but fire, lightning, vandalism and theft usually are covered, Scott-Buckley says. Coverage is limited to 5% of the amount of the insured value of your house, with up to $500 per tree or plant.

Trees damaging cars and vice versa

Damage to your car from falling trees or tree limbs is covered under the “comprehensive” part of your auto insurance policy, provided you have purchased that coverage, which also provides protection for damages from fire and theft, she says. This is true whether the car is parked or you’re driving it.

But if you drive into a tree or limb, the damage to your car will be covered by your own “collision” insurance.

If someone runs off the road and severely damages your trees or shrubs, the vehicle owner’s auto insurance should pay for your damages. But if you do the same to your own property, your own auto policy won’t cover the damage to your greenery.

Harrington Insurance Agency is an insurance agency with locations throughout Massachusetts. A member of the Arbella Insurance Group, Harrington Insurance represents many national and regional insurance companies.