Summertime is the season for barbecues, outdoor sports, vacations – and also for windstorms that knock down trees and create a mess, sometimes damaging a home or other building in the process. So if wind knocks down one or more trees on your property, what coverage will your Homeowners policy provide you?
If a tree hits your home or another building
In the case that the windstorm brings a tree down and it falls on your house or an outbuilding on your premises, most Homeowners policies will cover the damage caused to the structure. In addition, as long as there was damaged caused, most policies will pay the reasonable expense to remove the tree from your building and set it on the ground. Finally, there will usually be some limited coverage to cut up and haul off the tree debris. Please note, however, that this “tree debris removal” coverage is most often limited to $500 or $1000, depending on the policy and/or number of trees involved.
If a tree falls but doesn’t damage a structure
So what about the tree that falls in your backyard? It didn’t damage anything else but it is going to be a chore to clean up. Or perhaps it has come partway down and is hung up in another tree and is a hazard – maybe it is even in danger of hitting your home later. Unfortunately, a standard Homeowners policy doesn’t provide any coverage for cutting up and removing the tree trunk and branches – or even the cost to get down a hazardous tree that is hung up. There are some policies worded more broadly which might cover tree that fall and don’t hit and damage a structure, sometimes if it is within a certain distance of your home. Or if the tree blocks your driveway, this might also trigger coverage. Usually when coverage applies it will be limited to a small amount – such as $500 per tree and maybe $1000 overall.
Your Neighbor’s Tree
I’m often asked by clients what would happen if a neighbor’s tree fell across the property line onto their home (or vice versa). People often assume that whoever owned the tree is responsible for the damage caused by the tree. However, legally speaking, this is often not the case, as your neighbor is only liable for your damage if it was caused by their negligence. Unless the tree was an obviously unusual hazard that a prudent person would have removed (such as a dead tree), then your neighbor was probably not negligent and therefore not responsible for the damage to your home. So this is likely a claim on your Homeowners policy – not your neighbor’s policy.
Don’t forget that your deductible will apply to whatever coverage does exist. The most common Homeowners deductible is $1000, which might not be huge in the grand scheme of things but in some cases can mean that there is not a claim worth filing. However, we also see much larger deductibles.
While we generally try to avoid this with our clients when possible, there are many policies written with a separate deductible for Wind & Hail that is much higher than their basic policy deductible. Often the Wind & Hail deductible shows as a percentage (most commonly one percent or two percent) – sometimes without any further explanation without digging into the policy contract. Many people might assume that this means their deductible will be a percentage of their claim (which wouldn’t sound too bad), but it is actually a percentage of their policy’s Dwelling limit. Therefore, if your policy has a $250,000 limit for coverage on the Dwelling, a 1% deductible would be $2500 or a 2% deductible would be $5000. If your Dwelling limit is $400,000, then 1% equals $4000 and 2% means you have a $8000 wind/hail deductible!
How all this works: Example 1
Let’s say that a bad storm comes through and wind knocks multiple trees down in Sally’s yard. None of them hit a building, but two of them do block her driveway, preventing her from getting her car out. Sally and a friend spend all morning cutting up the trees that were blocking the driveway so she can get out – and several more afternoons clearing away the other trees that came down. She also had to pay $1000 for a tree company to remove a tree that got hung up and was in danger of hitting her house. Sally has a standard (ISO) Homeowners policy that provides debris removal coverage of up to $500 per tree and $1000 overall for the two trees that blocked the driveway only. She also has a $1000 deductible. If Sally can show that she and her friend spent enough time and/or money removing the trees to justify the full $1000 reimbursement, she will still not have a payable claim because she has a $1000 deductible and there wasn’t anything else damaged that will push the loss above her deductible.
How all this works: Example #2
Unfortunately, Sally’s neighbor Ted was not so lucky. A tree fell on his small shed and demolished it and much of the contents inside. Another tree landed on the roof of his house and caused some minor damage. Ted paid $1700 for a tree company to come in and remove the tree from the house and another $900 for them to cut up both trees and remove the debris from his property. The shed will cost $1000 to replace and the damage to the house $3500. Ted lost $1500 worth of property inside the shed. Ted has a similar policy to Sally, except to save money he purchased a one percent wind/hail deductible. (His dwelling is insured for $347,000.) Ted’s total loss is $8600. If he hadn’t bought the higher Wind/Hail deductible, he would have got paid $7600, but after subtracting his $3470 deductible, he can expect to receive $5130 for his claim.
What to do after a storm
So if a storm does come and bring down trees, what should you do? Read this blog post for step by step instructions.
While this post does portray Homeowners coverage common in the industry, the coverage discussed can vary from policy to policy; so we cannot guarantee that your own policy will reflect what we have summarized here. You should read your policy carefully. Also note that residential policy forms other than Homeowners (such as Dwelling Fire, Farm, etc.) may vary from what is discussed here and may not provide as much coverage for fallen tree situations. Finally, please note that coverage for trees fallen by lightning usually works differently than what is described here for trees fallen by wind.
About the Author
Agent Ken Cobb
Ken Cobb is owner of Pine Country Insurance and has been active in the insurance industry for over 15 years. Meet Ken.
Coverage descriptions found in this blog are summaries provided for general educational purposes and cannot fully detail the terms, conditions, limitations or exclusions of a specific insurance policy. Please read your policy carefully.