Insurance Claims

The Confidential Info: Fallen Tree Damage & Insurance Claims

Most homeowners are unaware of what their policy covers in the event a fallen tree damages their property or that they may have coverage for the value of their tree. I am here to make it super easy for you and give you the insider scoop.

Read my disclaimer.


Did a fallen tree cause damage to your property? Follow these three steps:

  1. Take multiple, good quality photographs. You will want to take a few overview photographs showing the location of the tree regarding your property. Next, be sure to get some close-ups showing the extent of the damage.
  2. File a claim with your homeowners insurance. Check out my article here. Be sure to explain the extent of your damage so the insurance company can advise the adjuster of the severity and priority of the inspection.
  3. If the tree has fallen onto your house or shed, you will need to mitigate your loss. To mitigate your loss, it may require removing the tree from the structure and then applying a tarp to reduce water damage.

In property insurance terms, mitigate means to take measures to reduce additional damage from occurring to your property.

Overview of coverages.

Each type of dwelling and homeowners insurance policy differs. However, generally speaking, when a tree falls and damages your property (house, other structures, and personal property) you have coverage for the removal of the tree off of the covered structure, tree debris removal, and then coverage for the actual physical damage to your property. Dwelling policies are more strict than homeowners policies. If you have Dwg-1 (or DP-1), you have the least amount of coverage and most likely have no coverage for tree debris removal. If you have trees in close proximity to your property, you should consult with your insurance agent regarding the best coverage suitable for your situation.

Tree debris removal explained (with examples).

Typically, a standard homeowner (HO-3) policy pays for the reasonable cost to remove the tree(s) from the covered structure or if the tree is blocking your driveway or accessible ramp. There is a limit of $1,000 for tree debris removal, including up to $500 per tree. I know what you are thinking, that is not a lot of money at all. If your tree debris removal cost exceeds the limit, you should ask your insurance adjuster if your deducible can be applied in the overage.


Examples:

Example one: one tree fell onto your home with a $1,000 deductible. Contractor invoice:

  1. Removal of (one) tree off of roof: $5,000
  2. Removal of tree debris from the property: $1000

The insurance company would pay a total of $5,500. They would include the entire cost of removing the tree from the roof if deemed “reasonable cost” and an additional $500 as that is the limit of debris removal per tree. Since there is only one tree, the limit is $500. The deductible would then be subtracted from your entire estimate, including all property damage sustained from the fallen tree. You should ask the adjuster if they can apply some of your $1,000 deductible into the removal of tree debris from the property overage of $500.


Example two: three trees fell onto your home with a $1,000 deductible. Contractor invoice:

  1. Removal of (three) trees off of your home: $12,000
  2. Removal of tree #1 debris from the property: $ 300
  3. Removal of tree #2 debris from the property: $500
  4. Removal of tree #3 debris from the property: $200

The insurance company would pay a total of $13,000. There is no overage as each tree debris removal does not exceed the $500 limit per tree. The total amount of debris removal totals $1,000, which the absolute most the insurance company will pay. Again, your $1,000 deductible would be subtracted from the overall estimate that includes the property damage sustained from the fallen tree.


Example three: one massive tree fell onto your home with a $1,000 deductible. Contactor invoice:

  1. Removal of (one) tree off of your home: $6,000
  2. Removal of (one) tree debris from property: $2,000

The insurance company will pay $6,500 in total. You will need to ask your adjuster if your entire $1,000 deductible will be applied in the overage. You will still need to pay the $1,000 overage; however, it will not be in addition to the $1,000 deductible. If the insurance company does not apply the deductible, you will come out of pocket $2,000; $1,000 for the overage and $1,000 for the deductible.


Did your neighbor’s tree fall onto your property? Here is what you need to know.

Did your neighbor’s tree fall onto your home? Do not expect their insurance to cover your damages automatically. A tree that falls during a natural disaster would not be your neighbor’s fault UNLESS they absolutely knew before the incident that their tree was a hazard and at risk of falling. By your neighbor knowing of the hazard, it would be negligent on their part.

If the insurance adjuster proves that your neighbor is negligent, your insurance company will go after their insurance company for subrogation (reimbursement for what they pay you). If they are successful, there is a high chance you will receive compensation for your deductible. Do not get too excited and do not bank on it. Very rarely does this scenario play out to completion during a natural disaster.

Additionally, if your neighbor has a tree that is an OBVIOUS hazard, you need to officially notify them that you are aware of the danger and request that they remove it. You should send a letter certified with dated photographs. Keep a copy of all documentation for your records. Notify your agent for the file.

If the tree falls and does not cause damage to any covered structure, there is no coverage for removal of the tree including debris removal. If the tree falls and blocks a driveway or an accessible ramp, but not a covered structure, you should be covered.

Are you considering asking your neighbor to file a claim on your behalf and have their insurance company pay you directly? That is probably not a good idea. Call your agent if you are considering that so they can advise you of their recommendations.

Did your tree fall on your neighbor’s property?

If your tree falls onto your neighbor’s property, the above applies. Be sure to let your neighbor know they are responsible for contacting their insurance company. You should probably contact your insurance agent and discuss the loss; they will be able to inform you of your options.

Important policy information to consider.

For coverage to be afforded, you must have sustained a covered loss. Was the tree struck by lightning or uprooted by a tornado? You are (most likely) covered for the removal of the tree off the damaged structure, tree debris removal, and repairs to the structure from the fallen tree.

Did your tree fall because of pest damage? You may not be covered for the tree removal because it did not fall due to a covered loss; however, the ensuing damage to your property (roof damage, broken windows) is typically covered.

You should have coverage* for contents located in the damaged structure. You will not be subjected to another deductible. One deducible per claim. (*if you have contents coverage on your policy).

Stump grinding is usually not covered. Be sure to let your tree company know that before they remove the stump and charge you.

Be sure to advise the tree company when submitting their invoice to separate the removal of the tree from the structure and then a separate charge for tree debris removal.  This will help the insurance company apply the correct limits.

If a tree falls onto your vehicle, you must contact your auto insurer to file a separate claim.

A reminder and some good advice.

I do not know your policy or exact situation, so I cannot tell you if you have coverage. The only entity that can grant you coverage is your insurance company. I am just here to help guide you and understand what is typically covered, and you should ask your adjuster to verify coverage. HOWEVER, if a tree falls onto your house, you need to remove it! You cannot live with a tree on your home! I get push back all the time from homeowners waiting to hear back from the insurance company; however, you must mitigate your loss and protect your house! It is a no brainer people!

Be sure to inspect your trees regularly for signs of disease or infestation. If you are concerned about the condition of your tree, contact a local arborist to inspect. By spending money now, you will be saving money later by avoiding a claim.

Loss of use coverage explained.

Let us talk about food: You should have coverage for food loss if a tree falls from a covered loss and directly causes your power to go out. Document your food items and then toss out. You do not need to keep spoiled food in your home until the adjuster comes. Take enough pictures and write down everything before you throw it out.

Temporary housing: Does your home have a gaping hole in the roof? Can you make the argument that due to power being out, you cannot live in your home? If you answered yes, then you may need to stay in a hotel or rental until repairs are complete. Ask and know your coverage! Coverage for temporary housing falls under coverage d – loss of use. Be mindful of your limit. If your home is a total loss, a good rule I like to follow is to take your loss of use coverage limit and divide it by 12. That will give you the monthly allowance you can afford for your home to be completed in one year. 

Insurance companies may use a third-party vendor to set you up in temporary housing. The vendor will contact you directly and discuss your needs. The vendor will then research options to present to you. You must ask them what the costs including the timeframe based on their pricing you will be able to reside in the rental.  Trust me on this. You do not want to exceed your limit and then start paying your rent on top of your mortgage payment. You are the one in control, not the insurance company when it comes to your temporary housing choices. Stay within your budget and get the most out of your coverage.

Here is an example:

Let us say your coverage is $51,000.

$51,000 / 12 = $4,250. That is the absolute most you can spend a month. BUT you need to consider the initial expenses of eating out while you find a place and, possibly, week in a hotel while you find a rental unit. Consider any additional expenses on top of your normal living expenses. Loss of use/additional living expenses is not for paying your mortgage. You will still need to pay your mortgage; the insurance company is paying your rent since it is an additional housing expense.

Trees have value.

Homeowners may have coverage for their (valuable) trees and landscaping when damage from fire, lightning, explosion, theft, aircraft, vehicles not owned by the resident, vandalism, and malicious mischief occurs. The limit is usually 5% of coverage A. There may also be a cap on a per tree basis. There is no coverage or value for hail, wind or tornado damaged trees. You must refer to your policy for complete details. 

What about dwelling policies?

Dwelling policies typically only allow removal of the tree from the property and then dropping of the tree right next to the structure. The policy does not offer coverage for debris removal. If you are not able to afford the expenses, then you will need to figure out a cost with your contractor before work gets started. Ask if they are going to use the tree as firewood to sell. See if you can work out a deal. It does not hurt to ask. If they say no, move on.

Do you need an engineer?

If a large tree or even multiple trees fall onto your home, you should check for any structural damage. You may need a civil engineer to inspect.  A civil engineer will provide valuable information so the adjuster can prepare an accurate estimate of damages.  It is vital to speak to the adjuster with all your concerns.  You may receive an estimate from the adjuster for undisputed damages prior to the civil engineer’s report.


The Curious Confidential: Have you ever had a tree fall onto your property? How was your claim experience? Did anything surprise you about the process?


The Confidential Info: Fallen Tree Damage & Insurance Claims via @The_Insurance_Confidential
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