Monday, January 16, 2012

A Windstorm Causes a Tree to Fall on Your House. Who is Responsible?

With all the wintry weather we’ve been hit with lately, not only is it hazardous to drive in, but it takes a toll on large trees in the heavily-wooded Northwest. You see trees down all over, some on the roads, others sprawled across people’s property. With all the tall trees surrounding homes in this heavily-wooded part of the country, there is the ever-present danger of one of these large trees toppling over and causing damage to buildings, cars or property, or even injury to its occupants.

Many homeowners don’t realize that, without proper coverage, they are liable for damages to their property, even if it’s from a tree on a neighboring property!

A recent PEMCO Insurance poll found that 82% of the people surveyed falsely believe that a neighbor’s insurance policy is at least partially liable for damage if a tree planted in the neighbor’s yard harms your house, fence or other structures. In addition, a full 60% believe it’s strictly the neighbor’s insurance company that will need to pay for the damages. In reality, unless negligence is a factor, homeowners are responsible for any structural damage to their own property!

“With so few homeowners knowing the right answer, and windstorms so common in the Northwest, we have a great opportunity here to educate consumers,” said PEMCO spokesperson Jon Osterberg.

While most homeowners policies will cover this type of damage, and for debris removal, too, if it can be proven that the damage stems from neglecting to maintain the health or safety of the tree, the neighbor (or you!) can be held responsible for the problem.

PEMCO recommends that you cut dead or rotting branches on all trees on your property to prevent them from falling on your house, or your neighbor’s house. 

Also, if you have a tree that is beginning to lean or looks like it might topple, it is best to hire a professional to have the tree removed before it falls over and causes damage. As the old saying goes, "It's better to be safe, than sorry."