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Home insurance and falling trees

By Jay MacDonald · Bankrate.com
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Posted: 10 am ET

Whose homeowners insurance policy takes the hit when a neighbor's tree falls, damaging your house or property? It's a common question, particularly after a major windstorm like Sandy.

In most cases, your insurance will have to take care of it, according to Janet Scott-Buckley, an agent with Harrington Insurance in North Andover, Mass.

"Most people don't understand that if your neighbor's tree falls and damages your house, shed, fence, pool or lawn, it's most often your problem, not your neighbor's," she explains. "You have to file a claim with your homeowners insurance company, and the usual deductible applies."

Of course, the same holds true in the opposite scenario: If one of your trees causes damage to your neighbor's property, you're generally off the hook.

One notable exception to the rule involves un-neighborly negligence. If your neighbor's tree rotted out or otherwise became a hazard, and you can document that you asked that it be removed, your insurer may convince your neighbor to pick up the tab for damages and cleanup. It will help your case if you have photos of the problem tree, a copy of your letter requesting its removal, and, ideally, an assessment by a trained arborist to support your counter-claim.

While homeowners insurance policies vary, most standard coverage provides for up to $500 for tree removal, says Scott-Buckley. As for replacing fallen trees and bushes, most policies exclude wind damage to landscaping and limit coverage to 5 percent of the insured value of your home, which could free up $500 per tree or plant.

Of course, if your tree falls in your yard without causing property damage, you'll be left to pay out of pocket to clean it up.

What's the scenario if a falling tree or limb damages a car? Put down your home insurance declarations and dig out your auto insurance policy.

If your car is damaged by a fallen tree or limbs while it's parked or when you're driving it, the damage is covered under the comprehensive, or "comp," portion of your auto insurance. However, should you drive into a tree or over a limb and sustain damage to your vehicle, that claim would fall under your collision coverage.

Similarly, if someone else drives into your tree and damages it, their collision coverage should pay for your claim. Drive into your own trees, however, and you'll pay out of pocket.

Follow me on Twitter: @omnisaurus.

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