Falling-tree question – who cares if it makes a sound; who pays is more important

PEMCO finds most residents unaware of the consequences of damage from fallen trees



​​SEATTLE – We’ve all heard the old saying, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” An interesting philosophical question, but for homeowners in the verdant, thickly wooded Northwest, a more topical question is, “If your neighbor’s tree falls on your house, whose insurance covers the damage?”

That question – and people’s perceptions about the answer – is the basis of a recent poll from Seattle-based PEMCO Insurance and, according to the data, most respondents got the answer wrong.

PEMCO’s Northwest Poll reveals that 82 percent of those surveyed falsely believe that a neighbor’s insurance policy is at least partially liable for property damage if a tree planted in the neighbor’s yard harms your nearby structure. 

But according to PEMCO, unless negligence is a factor, homeowners assume responsibility for structural damage to their own property, even if the damage results from a neighbor’s toppled tree.

“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.

Luckily, most homeowner insurance policies provide coverage for damage to the home, along with coverage for debris removal. 

However, if it’s proven that the damage stems from the neighbor neglecting to maintain the health or safety of the tree, the neighbor could be held responsible for damage caused by the fallen tree. 

Regardless of the scenario, PEMCO recommends that both parties file a claim with their own insurers if they ever suffer property damage from a fallen tree. 

While damage from fallen trees and other debris often can arise from factors other than bad weather, PEMCO recommends that Northwest residents heed some basic advice when a storm approaches.

  • Cut dead or rotting tree branches to prevent them from falling on your or your neighbor’s property.
  • Secure awnings, canopies (including truck canopies), garbage cans, barbecues, and other items that could blow away in a windstorm.
  • Don’t rely on cordless phones, which won’t work when there’s no power.
  • Replace batteries in flashlights, portable radios, and other important devices.
  • In a storm, be particularly alert for downed power lines; use common sense and stay out of harm’s way.
  • If you rely on a well (and an electric pump) for your water, store some beforehand in gallon containers.
  • If you lose power, do not use a generator, camp stove, barbecue, or gas lantern in the house. Use them outdoors only, to avoid serious risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Be extremely cautious when using candles, which are a leading cause of fires even under normal circumstances. Burn candles only in noncombustible containers, and never leave them unattended.

To learn more about PEMCO’s poll and to view a summary of the results, visit www.pemco.com/poll, where the public is invited to take an informal version of the poll to see how their own responses compare to those collected by FBK Research of Seattle in April and July 2011.

About the PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll
PEMCO Insurance commissioned this independent survey that asked Washington and Portland metro-area drivers several questions about driving habits and attitudes toward current Northwest issues. The sample size, 601 respondents in Washington and 600 in the Portland metro area, yields an accuracy of +/- 4.1 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. In other words, if this study were conducted 100 times, in 95 instances the data will not vary by more than +/- 4.1 percent.

About PEMCO Insurance
PEMCO Insurance, established in 1949, is a Seattle-based provider of auto, home, boat, life, and umbrella insurance to Northwest residents. PEMCO Insurance is sold by community agents throughout the region and through PEMCO offices. For more information, visit www.pemco.com.