Thousands of trees in the Greater Washington area were felled by Hurricane Irene, plunging hundreds of thousands into darkness and raising a thousand insurance-related questions, such as: “Is the damage from hurricane winds covered?” “Who is responsible for the damage if a tree falls on my neighbor’s yard?” And, “Will our homeowner’s insurance policy pay for it?”
The simple answer is that your homeowner’s policy will cover the damage, and it will do so up to the policy limits, minus your deductible. But when it comes to questions about insurance, it seems nothing is quite simple warns AAA Mid-Atlantic Insurance.
“The recent events are a reminder for homeowners to regularly review their insurance policies to become familiar with their coverage,” said Steve White, and Insurance Counselor at AAA Mid-Atlantic. “Next, review your insurance policy before calling the company so you know what repairs will be covered.”
Fallen trees killed four persons in Virginia. Area homeowners are dealing with downed trees, roof damage, power outages and water damage after Hurricane Irene spawned high winds and torrential rains to the region. It is estimated that Hurricane Irene could cost homeowners, businesses and state and local governments billions of dollars in repairs. And the damage estimates are still pouring in for homes, businesses, buildings, and cars.
While protection varies among companies, standard homeowners insurance does cover damage caused by fallen trees and limbs to an insured structure and its contents and the associated debris removal expenses, noted White. However, policies may not cover the debris removal costs for fallen trees and limbs that did not damage an insured structure, he explained.
Insurance companies also typically recommend homeowners file a claim for damage caused by a tree or branch even if it did not grow on their property, White pointed out. Companies may try to collect from a neighbor’s insurance provider through a process called subrogation if the tree was in poor health and not properly maintained. If insurers are successful, homeowners may be reimbursed for their deductible.
Most Frequently Asked Questions about Wind or Tree Related Damage
Q. Who is responsible when your neighbor’s tree falls on your house, car or property? Should my neighbor’s insurance company pay?
A. Unless negligence can be proven, the neighbor’s policy covers his/her house and your policy covers your house. Generally, if the tree is damaged due to a storm, the owner would not be considered negligent.
Q. My tree fell on my neighbor’s house. Does my policy pay the damage caused by the tree? Who pays to remove the tree?
A. The neighbor’s policy covers his/her house and your policy covers your house. Your neighbor’s policy would also pay to have the tree removed from his house.
Q. My tree fell in my yard. Will the insurance company pay for it?
A. Most policies cover clean up and removal of fallen trees that cause damage to your home or property. Some policies cover clean up and removal of fallen trees that block your driveway.
Q. My neighbor’s tree overhangs my house. If it damages my house by falling down or limbs fall down, would my AAA homeowner’s insurance cover the damages?
A. Even though it’s the neighbor’s tree, it’s going to be covered by your policy. Your policy will fix your house, then remove the portion of the tree that is on your yard. Notify your neighbor of the potential hazard and request that they address the situation. Making and documenting this request would assist your insurance company in the subrogation* process if in fact damage should occur.
“Property insurance covers damage from windstorms, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, to the ‘residence premises,’ whether it is a single-family home, a duplex where the policyholder lives in one of the units, or any other building where the policyholder resides as shown on the insurance declarations page,” according to the Insurance Information Institute and AAA Mid-Atlantic Insurance Sales.
“Dwelling coverage also applies to an attached structure, such as a garage or deck. A standard homeowner’s policy also covers ‘other structures’ that are unattached, such as a separate garage building or shed and swimming pools.” The policy includes coverage for damage to contents as well. “Damage from flooding, including flooding generated by hurricane-generated storm surge, typically is not covered under a standard homeowner’s policy.” Flood insurance is available from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
*Subrogation is the process an insurance company uses to recover claim amounts paid to a policyholder from a negligent third party.
For homeowners who experienced damage to cars, homes or property, AAA Insurance recommends these tips to help the claims process go smoothly:
- Take appropriate immediate and temporary measures to prevent further damage. If you do make minor repairs before an insurance adjuster arrives, save receipts to submit for reimbursement.
- Phone your insurance agent or company immediately. Be prepared with a list of questions ahead of time: Am I covered? Does my claim exceed my deductible? How long will it take to process my claim? Will I need to obtain estimates for repairs to structural damage?
- If your home is damaged to the extent you cannot live there, find out if you have coverage for additional living expenses for accommodations while repairs are completed. If you do stay at a hotel, keep your receipts for reimbursement.
- Schedule a time for an adjuster to inspect the damage to your property.
- Prepare a list of lost or damaged articles. Avoid throwing out damaged items until the adjuster has visited. Consider photographing or videotaping the damage.
- Get claim forms. Insurance companies will send required claim forms by a specified time period. Be sure to completely fill out the form and return promptly to avoid delays.