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October 29, 2012

Does home insurance cover tree damage?

By John Egan, InsWeb.com

Falling trees and limbs cause millions of dollars in damage each year. Whether a tree on your property falls during Hurricane Sandy or another natural disaster, does your home insurance cover the damage? The answer depends on the circumstances.

“Each homeowner should look at their homeowner’s policy or talk with a representative from their insurance company to find out what the policy specifically covers and doesn’t cover,” the Maryland Insurance Administration says. “Homeowners should also be sure to know what the policy deductible is, and any dollar limits on the amount of damage the policy will cover.”

Here are answers to some common questions about fallen trees and home insurance.

Will my home insurance policy cover damage from a tree?

A standard home insurance policy will cover damage to your home and the contents of your home if a tree – even if it’s your neighbor’s tree – falls on your home or another insured structure, such as a fence or a detached garage. This includes trees that fall because of wind, hail, ice, snow or sleet.

Will my home insurance policy cover tree removal?

Your policy may pay a limited amount (usually $500 to $1,000) to remove a fallen tree from your property. Keep in mind that you’ll receive receive the same amount of money whether one tree falls or 10 trees fall.

If a tree falls on my car when it’s parked at home, will my home insurance cover it?

No. For damage to be covered in this case, you’ll need comprehensive coverage on your car. Comprehensive coverage is optional, but auto lenders typically require it.

What happens if a tree falls in my yard but doesn’t hit anything?

If nothing that was insured was damaged, there generally isn’t any coverage.

If a tree falls in my yard but does not damage my home or property, will insurance pay for debris cleanup and removal?

Generally, the fallen tree must damage your home or property before the insurance company will pay for cleanup and removal. However, some policies provide limited coverage for cleanup and removal of trees if, for example, they fall and block your driveway.

If a neighbor’s tree falls on my property and hits my home, should by neighbor’s insurance company pay?

Unless negligence can be proven, the neighbor’s policy covers his or her house and your policy covers your house. If the tree is damaged because of a storm, the owner typically wouldn’t be considered negligent. However, if your neighbor’s tree was dead and the neighbor knew that, then your home insurance company may seek money from your neighbor’s insurer. “If the insurer is successful, you may be reimbursed for the deductible,” says Jeanne Salvatore, a spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute.

A tree on my property falls on my neighbor’s house. Does my policy pay the damage caused by the tree? Who pays to remove the tree?

The neighbor’s policy covers his or her house and your policy covers your house. The neighbor’s policy would pay to have the tree removed.

Why won’t my insurance pay to remove a damaged tree that’s leaning toward my home?
An insurance policy covers damage, not the threat of damage. A home insurance policy is not a home maintenance policy.

Is there any way to cover expenses for tree removal if my insurance doesn’t cover it?

Typically, losses not covered by insurance can be deducted as a casualty loss on your federal income tax return. The IRS defines a casualty loss as an “identifiable event that is sudden, unexpected, or unusual.”

Sources: Insurance Information Institute, Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, Maryland Insurance Administration, Virginia State Corporation Commission

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