THURSDAY, AUGUST 25, 2016
Here's one of the grayest areas in insurance, And one that often causes a lot of arguments. So hopefully this explanation will help you understand how Ohio homeowners insurance responds to and covers trees that fall on your property.
Real life claims scenario #1- homeowners insurance and fallen trees
Here’s the call I received from a customer recently- “I think I know the answer to this, but wanted to call anyway. The high winds knocked my neighbor’s tree onto my shed. Her homeowners insurance liability would pay to fix the shed, right?” Imagine his surprise when I replied “No, the tree fell in your yard, so your homeowners policy pays to remove the tree and fix the shed.” SILENCE. I think I even heard crickets.
Then the sputtering began- “What? How can that be? It’s HER tree. It should be her responsibility.”
I get it. Truly I do. It does seem rather unfair that my customer’s policy would be required to pay the claim, doesn’t it? But first you have to understand how homeowners insurance liability works to understand WHY this played out like it did
How homeowners insurance liability works- homeowners insurance and fallen trees
The basis of most liability insurance claims is the concept of negligence (the insurance policy is a legal contract after all). Negligence is composed of 4 parts, which are: Duty owed, Breach of Duty, Proximate cause, and Damages. Let’s move backward through the previous example to see how it would apply:
Damages- Yes, the shed was damaged due to the tree falling on it.
Proximate cause- High wind knocked over the tree, which in turn caused the damage to the shed.
I’ll lump the final two together- Duty Owed and Breach of Duty. This is where the logic breaks down. Who had a duty to make sure the wind didn’t blow so strongly? The neighbor? Of course not. She had no control over the weather (and I assume still doesn’t). So if she has no duty owed, then she can’t have a breach of that duty. Therefore you can’t hold her liable. And the insuring agreement in most homeowner policies usually says something like this- “We will pay what we are legally obligated to pay…….”
Those that want to collect under Mother Nature’s policy, by all means give it a try. Please let me know how that works out.
So when negligence can't be proved, the only way to get the damage fixed is by collecting on your own homeowners insurance policy. Or if the damage isn't much, you can pay out of pocket.
What IF negligence can be proved?
Another real-life situation pulled from our claims files. A neighbor’s tree fell onto our client's garage. There had been prior discussions between the neighbors that the tree was dead, yet the tree owner did nothing to prevent the situation from happening. There were some heated discussions and we had to calm them both down. For situations like this, let YOUR insurance take care of you. They will take statements from all parties involved and if it's discovered that the tree owner knew the tree was dying or diseased, but did nothing about it, then they will most likely file a subrogation claim with the neighbor's homeowners insurance company. Your insurance company will seek reimbursement from the other insurance company for damages paid. If the other person is in fact found liable, all damages can hopefully be recovered, including your deductible.
Moral of the Story- It Makes No Difference who a tree belongs to- If it’s on your property, it’s YOUR responsibility. Period. If it’s on your house, it’s doubly important to get it removed ASAP. Don’t pick fights with your neighbors, don’t argue about who’s responsibility it is. Just. Get. It. Done!
Real life claims scenario #2- homeowners insurance and fallen trees
Your tree is hit by lightning and falls on your house. This is the best case scenario as an Ohio homeowners insurance policy typically covers damage caused by trees if the tree hits a covered structure. So it could be your house, a detached garage, a pergola, you get the idea. Your deductible will come into play, but if the damage is significant, it'll probably be just a small portion of the total repair bill. The cost to remove the tree, as well as repair to the building would be covered.
Real life claims scenario #3- homeowners insurance and fallen trees
If the tree just simply falls and lands in your yard or the street, there is no coverage under an unendorsed homeowners policy. Insurance companies typically offer “storm cleanup” or “debris removal coverage” via a variety of endorsement. $500 coverage is typical, but I’ve seen $1,000 as well. Having just had several trees removed at my house, the average cost was around $400. Premium is peanuts compared to what you’re getting (maybe $10-$25 for the year????) and gives you some relief for the expenses incurred. Definitely worth consideration.
As your insurance agent, we answer questions like this every day. Let us help you too! Call today for your Ohio homeowners insurance quote OR fill out our homeowners insurance quote request to get the conversation started.
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