Your Tree, Your Neighbor’s Property: Whose Insurance Pays?

This is a good time of year to trim trees that might cause problems, before the start of hurricane season on June 1.

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QWhat happens if my tree falls onto my neighbor’s property? Does my insurance pay, or does his?

AIf your neighbor’s property is damaged by your tree, then he should file a claim with his insurance company. If the tree damages his house or other structures (such as a garage, shed or fence), his homeowners policy will generally pay to fix the damage. If the tree damages your neighbor’s car, then his auto insurance policy’s comprehensive coverage usually pays to repair it.

However, if your neighbor can prove that you were negligent—if, for example, he had sent you a letter asking you to remove a dead tree that an arborist had determined posed a safety hazard—he may try to get you to pay for the damage. “As a precaution, a homeowner should have an arborist conduct a tree survey every year,” says Rebecca Korach Woan, CEO of Chartwell Insurance Services in Chicago. This is a good time of year to trim trees that might cause problems, before the start of hurricane season on June 1.

If the tree falls and lands on your property, your home insurance policy would pay for damage to your home and other structures, and your car insurance policy would pay for damage to your car. Keep in mind that it will pay only beyond the deductible on your homeowners or car insurance, so get an idea how much the repairs might cost before you file a claim.

If a tree falls and doesn’t hit anything, most insurance policies will pay little or nothing for the cleanup. Policies that do cover tree cleanup generally limit payouts to just $500 to $1,000, even though it can cost much more to clear and haul away a large tree. If the tree falls into your neighbor’s yard without doing damage, you may want to offer to pay toward the cleanup to keep peace with your neighbor.

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