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Lately we have had several claims submitted for fallen trees and tree limbs.  Just yesterday we had an insured who reported that a large part of her tree had fallen on her fence and possibly damaged some property in her neighbor's yard.

Yes, under HER policy there is coverage to remove the tree debris and repair the fence (b/c she owns the fence).  No, there is no coverage under HER policy to repair the neighbor's property (he should file a claim under his policy).  HOWEVER, the amount of damage to her fence and to remove the debris is less than her $1,000 deductible.  

One more tidbit...if the tree and/or tree limbs had fallen but not landed on or damaged covered property then no coverage applies!  How do you like them apples!?!? 

Below is an article I found that does a great job of explaining this type of scenario...

 " One afternoon this past spring I got a call from my wife that a neighbors' tree had fallen and landed in our yard. "What should I do?" she asked. "He has someone over right now cutting up the tree", she added. "What?!?", I replied. With my usual suspicions I quickly told my wife to take some pictures before the evidence was chopped up and carted away. I'm not saying my neighbor was trying to pull a fast one, but you never know and it's never a bad thing to cover yourself by taking photographs. Besides, does this guy not know what I do for a living?

Later that evening I pulled into my driveway eager to asses the damage. Along a narrow strip of grass at the end of the driveway and like some arbor homicide crime scene bits of limbs, branches, leaves and chain saw remanence outline the once resting place of the fallen tree. My kids yellow motorized jeep, still parked in the same place as this morning sits battered, covered in tree debris; its plastic windshield and roll bar snapped in two and its wheels angled downward, still demonstrating the shear power and weight it had absorbed. I followed the path of evidence past my kids jeep to what once was a fence attached to my shed. Splintered boards scattered nearby and what remained of my fence had been leaned up against my shed. As I looked up past the shed and broken fence I saw the tree's initial victim; an aged fruit tree, twisted and bent down to the ground- it didn't have a chance. It was a major mess. I could only hope that my neighbor would be gracious enough to step up to the plate and take responsibility.

Even if the tree was your neighbors an act of nature Is nobody's fault... unless

A fallen tree, according to the insurance industry, is nothing but an act of nature and isn't necessarily the fault of any one party. Unless it strikes an insured structure (home, shed, garage, etc) there is no coverage for the cost to remove the tree. And even if it does hit an insured structure the insurance company is really only obligated to remove as much of the tree as it is necessary to make reasonable repairs to your covered property. However, to give insurance companies the benefit of the doubt some (good) insurance companies will include the cost to remove the entire tree. In some instances and depending on the insurance company you may be able to get an endorsement that covers some additional level of coverage for certain situations (i.e.: if the tree obstructs your ability to drive your car up the driveway), but for the most part, unless the fallen tree hits an insured structure you're on your own in removing the fallen tree.

So where does this leave me and my situation? Well, even if the tree is from my neighbors yard it's still an act of nature and therefore the insurance company does not consider the neighbor at fault. And yes, the tree did hit my fence so most likely the cost for tree removal and to fix my fence is covered under my policy. The problem is I have a $1,000 deductible and I doubt the cost will be much more than $1,000. And do I really want to have such a small claim on my permanent home insurance loss record? Granted, it wasn't necessarily my neighbors fault that the tree fell, but then again maybe it was.

Unless You Can Find Negligence...

The lack of insurance coverage to cover the cost to remove trees that have fallen on your property without hitting a covered structure is pretty much black and white. However, there is a small difference when a neighbors tree falls and lands on your property and he had previous knowledge of the risk of it doing so. If your neighbor was knowingly negligent- meaning he knew beforehand that the tree was at risk of falling then you might in fact have an opportunity to have either your or your neighbors insurance policy cover the cost to remove the tree. Unfortunately, verbal conversations between you and your neighbor are seldom enough to prove negligence. Without a paper trail demonstrating your concern communicated to your neighbor the claim most likely won't go very far. So what do you do? Well, if you're on good terms with your neighbor I suggest a quick chat over the picket fence some Sunday afternoon. Talking to your neighbor about the trees that concern you is a good start. Before you even say it I know I just mentioned a verbal conversation is not enough, but starting with a letter isn't exactly very neighborly either. Besides, depending on the relationship your neighbor just might take your concern to heart and either go right ahead and have the tree or trees in question cut down, or call an arborist to examine the trees in question. Of course, this is assuming your request is fair and you're not asking for him to cut down every tree within 50 feet of your property!

The lack of insurance coverage to cover the cost to remove trees that have fallen on your property without hitting a covered structure is pretty much black and white. However, there is a small difference when a neighbors tree falls and lands on your property and he had previous knowledge of the risk of it doing so.

 If after a couple weeks your neighbor does not respond in some way regarding your concern you can remind him again, or move to the next level and notify your neighbor in writing. If you choose to notify in writing via snail mail you should do so using certified mail. However, I've always aligned certified mail with bad news so doing so might not help with neighbor relations. My preferred method is email. Not only is email easier, but it's easier to track. When emailing your neighbor activate the 'send me a receipt' option in Outlook (assuming you use Outlook). Most other email applications like gmail have similar options. Activating this 'receipt' feature will providing you that proof that at least your neighbor received your email and opened it. If something should happen now you have a better chance of proving your case and getting yours or your neighbors home insurance policy to cover the loss. In my case, if there was proof of negligence my insurance company might very well waive my deductible and go after my neighbors company for the loss.

So how did I finally resolve my problem? I didn't feel the damage was extensive enough to file a claim under my policy. Since proving negligence was out of the question I really had nothing to rely on other than the hope that my neighbor was going to do the right thing. I wasn't looking for anything but getting my fence fixed. The jeep, as damaged as it was, was something I was, in the name of being neighborly, willing to overlook. And what are you going to do about the fruit tree? I mean the thing was probably 10-15 years old and I'm not about to ask him to replace that either. In the end, I requested that if he could just fix the fence I'd be grateful. I'm still waiting. "

Posted 8:41 AM  View Comments

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