With Winter Storms Felling Trees, Do You Know What Your Homeowners’ Insurance Covers?

treefallStrong winds, heavy rain, and flooding are in the news in various parts of the U.S. this winter, and are all major forces in felling trees. Just this week, the National Weather Service issued high wind advisories for Wyoming, Washington, Oregon, and Montana, and also warned that, “The gusty winds could blow down weaker trees and branches.”

If you’re hearing the wind whip up outside your house, and there are any large trees nearby, now might be a good time to review the terms of your homeowners’ insurance policy.

If your policy is like most, it will cover repair costs associated with having wind blow one of your trees onto your house, garage, fence, or other structures. The same goes if the damage was caused by snow, hail, or sleet. The extent of coverage depends on your policy limits; and remember that you’ll have to pay your deductible first.

Your policy is less likely to cover damage to your landscaping.

Watch out, however: If the insurance company finds that you were negligent in caring for the tree–for example, failed to remove a large dead branch–it can deny you coverage, based on the concept that you yourself were a major cause of the damage.

Who owns the tree is not a key issue. Even it it’s your neighbor’s tree, your policy should cover the damage–again, assuming that your neighbors were not negligent in their tree care. If they were, your insurance company may help you go after theirs for coverage; or you may have to pursue a separate legal claim against the neighbors.

Also realize that homeowners’ insurance policies commonly do NOT cover the costs of removing a tree that simply falls over in your yard, large and unwieldy though it might be. Removal costs can quickly run into the thousands of dollars. Angie’s List offers some helpful advice on this, and warns against attempting tree removal on your own!

What if a tree falls on your car? Look to your auto insurance policy, assuming you didn’t waive “comprehensive coverage.” (If you took out a car loan, you probably lucked out on this issue–your lender likely insisted on comprehensive coverage.)

How about if the tree falls into the street? Your city may be willing to take care of removal, but you’ll need to look into this further.

For more information, see the homeowners’ insurance and neighbors sections of Nolo’s website.