It’s that season again. Here come the hurricanes, here come the strong winds and rains. Will your house and beautiful trees survive the onslaught? It is a question that we who live along the Gulf Coast ask ourselves at the beginning of every hurricane season. And along with that question, comes the next one—if a tree falls will my homeowners insurance policy cover it? Like many legal questions, the answer is “it depends.”

For your homeowners policy to cover damages from a fallen tree, two conditions must apply. First, the cause of the tree’s falling must be due to a “covered peril” in the policy. Some of the usual “covered perils” include storms, hail, ice, or a fire caused by lightening. Perils that are generally not considered “covered perils” and thus, do not provide insurance coverage for a fallen tree, include rot, age, flood, or earthquake. Second, the damage from a fallen tree must be to a “covered structure.” Obviously, if the tree falls and hits your home, it will be covered by your homeowner’s policy because your home is a “covered structure.” If the fallen tree hits your detached garage, it too will likely be covered as will any “other structures” on your property. If your beautiful tree in your front or back yard falls from a “covered peril” and causes damage to a “covered structure,” you are in good shape—your damages will be covered.

Another important related question to this first question is does my homeowner’s policy cover tree removal? The answer is “yes.” Typically, homeowner’s policies will cover the removal of the fallen tree if it has fallen on a “covered structure” or if the fallen tree is blocking an access point such as a door or driveway. Most policies, generally, do have a limit for tree removal in the range of $500.00 to $1,000.00. If, however, your tree has just fallen in your yard and does not cause damage to a “covered structure,” your policy will probably not cover the expense of removing your fallen tree. You will have to shake your own piggy bank for that expense.

But what if your neighbor’s tree falls on your property, will your homeowners policy cover that damage? Generally, the answer is “yes.” In the insurance world, it does not matter who owns the fallen tree. In some cases, your insurance company may attempt to collect payment from your neighbor’s insurance company. This is a process called subrogation. If subrogation is successful, it may also cover your policy’s deductible for the damage to your property from your neighbor’s tree.

Likewise, there is coverage generally in a tornado situation where trees, limbs, and all sorts of debris comes soaring into your yard from who knows where. After a tornado, it becomes virtually impossible to determine from which tree or yard such flying debris has come. Fortunately, if you have insurance for covered perils such as tornados, it will cover damage caused by the tornado to a “covered structure” regardless of whether the tree or limbs came from next door or the next town over.

Finally, last question, what if a tree, either yours or your neighbor’s, falls on your brand-new car parked in your driveway, does your homeowners policy cover that damage? The answer is “No” – not generally, not typically, not ever. However, you may be able to file an auto insurance claim if you have comprehensive coverage on your car insurance policy, and, if it is a brand-new car, you most likely will have comprehensive coverage.

Read your policy to learn what are your “covered perils” and “covered structures” but not during a hurricane or tornado—read it now and know your options before those hurricane and tornado winds blow. Also, remember that Merlin Law Group is here to help you with any of your property insurance needs.

“It is in the roots, not the branches, that a tree’s greatest strength lies.”
—Matshona Dhliwayo
(A Canadian based philosopher, entrepreneur, and author of such books as “The Art of Winning” and “Dinner with King Solomon” and others.)