If a tree falls: FAQ about insurance

Tyler Wade
by Tyler Wade July 30, 2020 / No Comments

If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? We’ll let the philosophers decide. Now, If a tree falls on your house, does home insurance cover it? Is it worth the claim? What if a neighbour’s tree fell on your house? If a tree falls on power lines, who’s responsible? These questions aren’t philosophical. There are many questions, and we have answers or times when you should call your provider.

With a falling tree, your insurer wants details. Did the tree fall from a massive rainstorm, a hurricane ripping through the neighbourhood, or a lightning bolt’s blast? Before any insurance claim is paid out for a fallen tree and its repercussions, your provider will ask questions. They’ll want to know about the state of the tree before its fall and its resulting damage.

We’re going to arm you with the knowledge on what to do after a tree falls.

If a tree falls on your house, will insurance cover it?

In most cases, homeowner’s insurance covers fallen trees. Home insurance will pay for the repairs to your house, and additional living expenses (e.g. hotels, restaurant meals, and laundry fees) while the renovations occur.

Is it worth the claim? As with most insurance, it depends. Let’s say a small, healthy tree broke a window. The cost to replace the said window and removing the tree is less than your deductible (the part you pay before your insurer pays out the rest). In this case, it’s not worth the claim and risking a home insurance rate increase.

If a giant oak tree slashes through your front porch, tearing through the walls crushing your dining room table, yes, make a claim.

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Does home insurance cover tree removal?

If the tree falls on your lawn but doesn’t damage your property, you’re on your own for debris removal. The same goes for dead trees or large branches. Home insurance is meant to help in unexpected, unpredictable emergencies, such as fire and flood. It’s not a replacement for home maintenance, and insurers are likely to argue that damage from dead trees could be avoided if homeowners are vigilant.

There are exceptions, so if the tree falls into the street, or on power lines, your municipality will step in. Unless there’s a fire or imminent danger, call your city support line to notify them.

If a tree blocks a driveway, your insurer may cover it. It’s worth a phone call to ask. If it blocks your neighbour’s driveway, maybe pay for their cab to work.

What if the neighbour’s tree fell on my house?

If a tree falls on your house, but it’s on your neighbour’s property, you should be able to make a claim on your homeowner’s insurance. But, to do so, it must be due to weather-related events like windstorms, lightning, hail, ice, or snow,

If your home insurance company determines your neighbour’s tree fell due to rotting, or if it’s dead, your insurance may not help you. However, you may be able to file a liability claim on their home insurance, which covers third-party events like falling trees.

If they aren’t “neighbourly,” and they knew the tree was diseased, courts may rule they should have addressed the issue, and they’re at fault for the damage to your home.

These same rules apply if the neighbour’s tree fell on your fence, gazebo, or shed. Your home insurance covers those detached structures.

Who pays for the tree falling on your neighbour’s property?

If your tree falls on your neighbour’s property, but there is no damage, it lands in an empty space in their yard, you don’t have to do anything. But, you’re a good neighbour, so you’d discuss the steps for removal. The cost to remove a tree depends on its size and accessibility, but expect to spend between $150-$1500 for tree removal – you could split this cost with your neighbour.

Of course, with insurance, a lot depends on your policy and your insurer. Sometimes, an insurer may be willing to fork over $500-$1,000 to help with the removal, especially if, without its removal, it creates other risks.

Does homeowner’s insurance cover car damage from a tree?

As long as you have comprehensive car insurance, a common add-on to most policies, you’re covered by your car insurance policy, not home. Comprehensive coverage protects your car while it’s in park, so things like vandalism, fire, flood, or theft.

Does homeowner’s insurance cover damage to your neighbour’s car?

If a tree on your property falls on their car, they can claim it under their comprehensive car insurance. If they don’t have comprehensive coverage, they can approach you about putting it under your third-party liability on your home insurance. But that could cause your rates to spike. Unless you want to shop for home insurance quotes following the hike, you can say no.

All the same rules apply as above, though. So, if the tree was healthy, and a sudden storm caused it to crack, you technically don’t have to do anything. However, if you let the tree rot, they have cause to go after you in court to pay for the damages.

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How to avoid a tree falling on your home

Of course, it’s better if you don’t need to make a claim in the first place. To protect your house, start by pruning trees on your property. You can also prune branches from your neighbours’ trees that extend over the property line.

Be sure to frequently check for and remove dead and crossed branches. Call in an arborist if you see signs of internal decay, such as cankers (discoloured and depressed spots on the bark) and conks (fungi growing out of the trunk or branches).

It’s also important to not remove the entire tops of trees. Any regrowth will be weakly attached to the trunk and will be more likely to break in a storm.

And don’t forget to check for wounds and cracks in the trunk. Frost cracks often aren’t a cause for concern, but watch out for two vertical cracks that appear on the opposite side of the tree. That indicates root injury and should be addressed as soon as possible.

If you’re planting new trees near your home, skip brittle species that are more likely to split, such as willows, silver maples, box elders and Lombardy poplars. It’s smart to avoid planting trees with forked trunks, especially if one half of the fork grows sideways instead of straight up. These trees are structurally weaker and are more prone to infection.

The bottom line

If the article doesn’t have all the answers, please leave a question below. We hope it gives you the advice you need, and maybe a little take away about how insurance works. That said, there’s no such thing as dead tree insurance coverage. If your tree is dying, cracking, or has root damage, pay for its removal before it’s a problem. You may need to get approval from your municipality first, but it’s far cheaper than dealing with an insurance claim.

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