The wind has been prevalent in New Hampshire over the last few weeks leaving many trees and branches in its wake. As large trees and branches have caused quite a bit of damage to property, we at HPM Insurance in Amherst and Bedford have been fielding a lot of calls on this topic so felt it worthy of a blog. Here are some of the more common questions and answers to guide you through this blustery issue:
Do I have coverage if a tree falls in my yard?
Life most things in insurance it depends. If a tree hits your home or another structure, regardless of whose property it fell from, then your homeowners insurance would most likely cover the resulting damage. If the tree falls on another structure on your property, like a shed, fence or detached barn, then this would also most likely be covered; however coverage for such structures is typically capped at 10% of your dwelling coverage. If a tree falls in your yard, but does not damage any property or structure then there is generally no coverage to remove the tree. This can vary with a policy enhancement, so be sure to check with your insurance professional for the specifics of your policy.
Who pays if a tree falls from my neighbor's property?
If a tree falls from your neighbor's yard, but there was no previous indication that the tree was sick, then it would most likely not be the fault of your neighbor and therefore you would most likely not be able to collect under your neighbor's insurance under their liability coverage. The same would be true if a healthy tree was blown over from your property as it is simply considered "an act of God" and no one's fault. Again- if a fallen tree causes damage to your home then you would most likely have coverage as described above on your own home insurance, but subject to your deductible.
If the tree was dead or sick, then you may be able to collect under your neighbor's homeowners insurance under the liability coverage. It would be helpful to the success of your claim if you had noted a conversation with your neighbor before the tree fell and even better if the conversation was documented in an email and/or letter (keeping a copy for your own records as well). Even if you don't want to trouble your neighbor or are not able to find out who insures their home, your insurance company may still attempt to be reimbursed by your neighbor (or their insurance company) for payments made to you for damage if it is clear that the tree was unhealthy. If your company is successful in getting 100% reimbursed, you would most likely get your deductible returned (however this typically is a lengthy process).
Are my trees covered?
Most NH homeowner insurance policies do provide some coverage for trees and shrubs for events like fire, theft and vandalism, but not wind damage.
What if a tree or branch falls on my car?
If a tree or branch damages your car then you would need to have comprehensive coverage (aka Other-Than-Collision coverage/OTC coverage) on your NH auto policy to get the vehicle repaired. There is typically NEVER coverage under your own homeowners insurance for damage to a vehicle subject to registration (regardless if it is actually registered or not.) This is a common misconception and was a huge issue during the ice storm we had a few years back for the people who pulled coverage off their vehicles for the winter.
If the tree was not on your property and it was evident that the tree was dead, then you may be able to collect from the property owner but that could be a long process especially if not clear there was negligence. The better option is to keep comprehensive coverage on your vehicle year round. Many insurance companies allow you to remove all but comprehensive coverage, which is relatively inexpensive, for this very reason.
Should I file a claim for a fallen tree on my property?
Damage caused by a tree or branch can be very minor, extremely devastating or anything in between. If a tree falls directly on your home causing major damage, then take action to protect your home from additional damage and file a claim with your insurance company immediately. It is also beneficial to take photos along the way and provide to the company adjuster. Though you are required to make repairs so that there is no additional damage to your home (like putting a tarp over a hole in the roof), it is not recommended that you begin permanent repairs until the company's claims adjuster has connected with you.
If a tree falls in your yard and causes minor damage, then you may want to take pictures and get an estimate of the repairs right away before filing a claim. If the damage is under your deductible then it is not recommended that you file a claim for risk of losing "loss free" credits or incurring a possible claim surcharge on your renewal. You would not want to get a check from your NH homeowners insurance company for $100 and have your premium increase by at least this amount for several years. That said, coverage can be denied for late reporting so it is recommended that you get an estimate and make a decision on what you want to do without a lengthy delay.
Obviously it is best to avoid a tree falling in your yard in the first place. A good loss prevention measure is to walk your property and look at the trees on and surrounding your property. If some are questionable, get a quote from an arborist. If the tree is in your neighbor’s yard, but has a potential to fall onto your property, have a discussion with them about coming up with a compromise and perhaps pay for the tree's removal 50/50. For a list of accredited tree care professionals in NH, visit the Tree Care Industry Association. If a questionable tree is on town property, contact your town officials and they may remove the tree without any expense to you.
This material is for informational purposes only. All statements herein are subject to the provision, exclusions and conditions of the applicable policy or state laws. For an actual description of all coverages, terms and conditions, refer to the insurance policy or speak with an insurance professional.