Q. A tree fell from one property and damaged another. Whose insurance applies?
A. In most cases, the homeowner whose property suffered damage will need to file a claim with their own insurance company.
Calls related to fallen trees are common after windstorms like the one that hit the Puget Sound region recently. First the winds kick in. Next, you hear the loud crack of a tree branch or trunk breaking. Then comes a crashing noise as it drops onto a fence, tool shed, or other nearby structure. Once you've made sure everyone is okay and there's no further immediate danger, you begin inspecting and quickly find that one of your trees fell onto the neighbor's garage. You're thankful to find your property unscathed but can't say the same for your neighbor.
So, whose insurance pays in this case? Probably your neighbor.
It's common for neighbors to disagree about whose insurance applies. This might stem from the fact that homeowners policies usually have a deductible, and it's natural to hope that someone else will foot that cost.
Trees typically fall from high winds or heavy rain – events labeled an act of God, outside human control. In a nutshell, there’s an absence of negligence. In those cases, the property owners didn't cause the tree to fall, they just own the land from which it fell, so they're not responsible for the damage.
On the other hand, if there's potential negligence, you may be held responsible. Let's say you're cutting down a tree when it falls and damages property. It's tough to argue that it wasn't your fault if you used an axe or chainsaw on the tree moments before it fell. In this situation, the liability coverage from your homeowners policy may protect you against claims for damage or injury. If you hired someone to do the work, then they may be responsible.
The best rule of thumb is to ensure you always have a homeowners or rental insurance policy in place. That way, you can be confident you're protected regardless of where the tree came from!