Whose insurance pays if a tree falls on someone else's property?

If one of your trees falls and damages a neighbor's property, and there was no reason to believe the tree was in danger of falling, "generally speaking, it is your neighbor's insurance policy that is called upon to pay the damage," Dr. Robert Hartwig, President of the Insurance Information Institute, "Since [their] insurance is being impacted," Hartwig continued, "you probably won't face an insurance premium increase as a result."

However, "your neighbor could come after you to cover his deductible. Matter of fact, when one of my trees fell on my neighbor's fence, it destroyed some of his fence and damaged fruit trees. In the interest of neighborly relations, I voluntarily paid for a new pear tree, so between what the insurer paid and what I paid, he didn't have any out-of-pocket expense," says Hartwig.

The upshot? "My neighbor and I are still on speaking terms, which is a good thing. I paid for the new fruit tree, because I thought it was the right thing to do, although I was not obligated to do that." Hartwig's story underlines the fact that, in general, your neighbor's insurance covers your neighbor's property. However, although you and your insurance company may not legally have to make a payment, it's usually best to maintain good relations with those around you.

Can you be held liable for tree damage?

If a healthy tree went down in a storm, you can't be blamed, However, if there is negligence on your part, you can be held liable for the damage. If your tree was dead or diseased, and a judgment or settlement finds that you knew or should have known about that, you could be legally liable for the damages. This is especially true if your neighbor has documentation proving that he or she complained to you or the city about the state of your tree.

Your homeowners insurance policy covers liability, including defending you in a lawsuit. Your neighbor could submit a claim to your insurance company if they believe you are at fault. If your neighbor sues you, claiming that you were negligent in failing to take care of your tree, your insurance company will pay to defend your case, and will pay for damages if you're responsible. The cost of legal defense is in addition to policy liability limits, although the amount of damage paid for is subject to these limits.

Other homeowners insurance coverage for tree damage

Another option under your own homeowners insurance policy is the damage to property of others coverage in the other coverages portion of the liability section. This coverage does not have a deductible and can be used without a judgment or admission of legal liability, which can help speed up the payment process. The amount of coverage for Damage to Property of Others, typically $1,000, is in addition to the policy's liability limits. However, remember that using your own insurance constitutes a claim against it and a possible premium increase. Therefore, only use this type of coverage if you can't afford to pay for the damage yourself.

If your tree falls on your neighbor's porch, your neighbor's homeowners insurance will usually pay for the damage. However, remember that each area has different laws, and each policy has exclusions explaining what is not covered.

How to avoid tree damage

To avoid this situation, have your trees trimmed and inspected periodically. If you're worried about trees on your property falling during a storm, have them trimmed or removed.

If you are concerned about a neighbor's tree, write a polite letter to your neighbor and/or the city, keep a copy and send it by registered mail. Hopefully, this will encourage them to remove it, but at the very least, it will provide a record that the tree was dangerous and the property owner knew about it. If something happens, you'll have evidence of negligence.