A full yard of trees may be beautiful, but they pose significant threats to homeowners throughout the year and can cause costly property damage. Whether it is a winter ice storm, a tornado outbreak during the spring, a strong summer afternoon thunderstorm or hurricane season, it is always wise to keep trees trimmed and well-maintained.
Sometimes, regardless of the care you take, just one strong gust of wind can topple a perfectly healthy tree onto your home. Now, you may be wondering if your homeowner’s insurance will help pay for the cost of repairing any damage and removing debris; or what happens when the tree comes from your neighbor’s yard?
Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about trees and insurance.
Q: Does my homeowner’s insurance cover damage from a fallen tree on my property?
A: It depends. Typically, damage caused by trees falling on covered property is covered by your homeowner’s policy. Most insurance companies protect your home and other structures, such as a fence or shed, against covered perils up to your policy limits. Covered perils usually include damage caused by “acts of God” such as wind, lightning or hail, unless specifically excluded.
Keep in mind that even if the damage is covered by the policy, you’ll typically have to pay a deductible and the coverage limits will apply. If the tree falls during a named storm weather event, you could be responsible for a named storm deductible depending on your policy. A named storm deductible is often much larger because it is calculated as a percentage of the home's insured value. Always take time to read your policy or check with your agent to understand your coverage and how the deductible works to prevent unpleasant and unexpected financial surprises before disaster strikes.
Cars damaged or destroyed by falling trees are covered under the comprehensive portion of an auto insurance policy.
To mitigate possible damage, trees should be routinely inspected. Dead branches can be cut from a tree at any time of year, but arborists suggest removing healthy limbs in the winter months. Use caution to not harm the entire tree and pay attention so no one is injured in the process.
Q: Am I responsible if a tree from my yard damages a neighbor’s property?
A: If a tree is on your property, you must maintain it up until the end of your property line. You are responsible for making sure any tree on your property is healthy and there are no known hazards. Check trees for signs of disease or rot on a consistent basis and look for any weak or damaged branches.
You’re typically only considered responsible if negligence on your part causes the tree to fall resulting in damage or injury. If not, your neighbor will likely have to file a claim through their own insurance.
Q: What if a neighbor’s tree damages my property?
A: If the tree is healthy, has no sign or pre-notice of an issue and an “act of God” causes it to fall, you’re likely responsible even if it was the neighbor’s tree. Your insurance company could later try to collect from the neighbor’s insurance company through a process called subrogation. If this happens and your insurer is successful, you may be reimbursed for your deductible.
Keep in mind, if a tree’s trunk is on your neighbor's property but has overhanging limbs into your property, you are responsible for cutting any branches that extend onto your property. You can cut back anything up to your property line. Routinely trimming branches that pose a threat to your property is part of being a responsible homeowner – but use care to not damage the rest of the tree.
Q: Does my homeowner’s insurance cover the removal of tree debris?
A: If the fallen tree hits your home or other insured structures, a typical homeowner’s policy covers any reasonable expenses to remove it from the covered property so repairs can be made. Then, removing the debris from the residence premises is usually covered up to a specified limit, generally $500 depending on the policy.
If wind causes the tree to fall but it doesn’t hit covered property and simply falls in the yard, there is typically no coverage for the removal.