Since many people ask us, “does insurance cover tree damage?” we wanted to address a few tree-related FAQs. Every year, thousands of trees fall on residential properties in Massachusetts. We hope the following facts will help you prepare.
Will home insurance cover tree damage?
It depends. If the damage was sudden and accidental, and if the tree (or a large limb) fell on your home, driveway, or other insured structure, then yes. (Probably.) Keep reading for more details on when and how home insurance for tree damage applies.
When won’t home insurance cover tree damage?
Insurance is designed to address unforeseen damage—problems you could not have predicted or solved with proactive maintenance. So, if a tree in your yard is clearly dead right now (no leaves, dangerously leaning, crumbling, etc.), your insurance company may not be willing to pay when it lands on your shed. They may argue you should have cut it down beforehand, and deny the claim.
Additionally, home insurance exists to protect your home—not your yard. If a tree falls on your lawn—even a gigantic one—most insurance carriers won’t extend coverage to have it chain-sawed and dragged away. (**NOTE: some carriers do offer an endorsement whereby tree removal coverage is available, even if the tree does not fall on an insured structure. If you are interested in adding this type of coverage to your home insurance policy, or you’re curious what it would cost, contact your account manager for more info.)
How does the insurance company know whether or not my trees are dead/dying?
When you purchase a home insurance policy, and periodically throughout the lifetime of that policy, an underwriter will order an inspection. The inspection results in a report and photos of the property. If the inspection reveals dead trees, the underwriter will suggest or require (depending on the severity/location of the problem—e.g. limbs hanging over the house, shed, pool, etc.) that the tree be trimmed back or removed. If you refuse to comply, your policy may be cancelled or non-renewed. Furthermore, if there is ever a claim, and it’s documented that you did not follow recommended measures, the claim could be denied.
This is not the only scenario in which a tree damage claim could be denied, but suffice it to say, insurance companies do pay attention to what’s happening on your property.
Will my neighbor’s home insurance cover tree damage if his tree falls on my property?
This is a question we get after EVERY storm. It does not matter where the tree (or any part of the tree) came from. The person with the damage is responsible for filing the claim on his/her own policy. He or she is also responsible for paying the deductible. We know, we know… It doesn’t seem fair. But now that you know the sad truth, let’s move on to what you can do about it.
For starters, be nice to your neighbors! Work together to identify trees that need to be taken care of before something happens. You can’t predict where this tree or that tree (yours or his) might fall, so your best bet is to act responsibly. Contact a Massachusetts arborist where professional advice is needed, and hopefully you’ll never need to file a tree damage claim.
If a tree falls on my car will home insurance pay?
No, never. Don’t even try. If a tree falls on your car and you have comprehensive auto insurance (which you should!), your auto insurance would respond. Here’s more on which types and how much car insurance you need in Massachusetts.
How often do trees fall on houses in Massachusetts?
There’s no reliable statistic to answer this question. But our sources at the Massachusetts Arborists Association tell us that, collectively, they deal with hundreds of trees on top of houses each year—especially after ice storms and microbursts. If you’ve ever walked around your neighborhood after a storm, you’ve probably seen a number of good-sized branches littering lawns and possibly atop roofs. For every few dozen of these sightings, there’s at least one nearby home suffering significant damage.
Why are more trees falling in Massachusetts lately?
You’re not imagining it; an unusual number of Massachusetts trees are dying. Weakened and diseased trees are at greater risk for falling.
You might remember several summers of gypsy moth infestations. Many of us—particularly those with oak trees on our properties—watched as caterpillars devoured tree leaves for consecutive seasons. Even with the caterpillars more or less in check, many of these trees have suffered stress that predisposes them to secondary pests and disease. You may notice a tree’s “failure profile,” which starts with dead wood, then “upper crown dieback,” then eventually the tree won’t produce leaves the following spring.
More recently, Massachusetts trees are also under attack by the emerald ash bore and the Japanese lantern fly. Whether you’ve noticed any of these symptoms or not, it’s a good idea to contact a Massachusetts arborist for a checkup on all large trees in your yard.
How do I know if a tree in my yard is dead or dying?
If you want to do some arboreal detective work, there are several warning signs you can look for: mushrooms or fungus around the base of the tree (which may indicate root rot); deep cracks or holes in the trunk; uneven foliage that moves from the outside inward; or—more imminently—cracks in the soil, with the ground rising up around the base of the trunk. Again though, it’s best to leave the investigation to a certified arborist.
Once a tree is dead, it doesn’t take more than a moderate wind storm to knock it down. Diseased and damaged trees can also be dangerous; many will drop sizeable limbs capable of roof damage.
Will insurance pay to remove a tree before it falls?
No, unfortunately it won’t. Maintaining healthy trees is part of your job as a homeowner—just like cleaning your gutters, emptying your dryer’s lint trap, and keeping your pipes warm in the winter.
Will insurance pay to replace a fallen tree or shrub?
No. Not unless your tree damage is the result of a “covered peril.” For most homeowners, covered perils include fire, lightning, vandalism, theft, or a vehicle (someone else’s) crashing onto your property. In these cases, home insurance would likely offer some coverage, up to a set amount per tree.
Will my insurance go up if I file a tree damage claim?
Maybe. A sad fact about insurance coverage is that it often costs a bit more every time you use it. Unlike car insurance, there is no “accident forgiveness” provision for home insurance claims. On the other hand, some losses are forgiven if a particular storm is deemed “catastrophic,” again though, depending on your prior loss history.
Which trees are most likely to fall or break during a storm?
While it’s true that some trees (e.g. palms) are categorically more resilient in windy weather, it’s most important to consider the overall health and strength of the trees you have on your property versus the type of tree. Risk factors for all trees include:
The taller the tree, the more susceptible it is to “windthrow,” or the lever-effect produced by high velocity winds. Tall trees with shallow root systems are riskier still.
- CLUSTERED VS. SOLITARY
If you live in a new development, you should note that trees with altered environments (major digging near their root systems or the loss of surrounding trees) may also present an elevated risk. A tree that grew in the midst of a forest is suddenly much more vulnerable when its neighboring trees are cut down to make way for houses or condominiums.
- SATURATED SOIL
Roughly 90 percent of a tree’s roots are just 18 to 24 inches below the ground. If your yard has poor drainage and/or your trees’ roots are decayed, even a few inches of rain can create uprooting conditions.
- SHARP JOINTS
Multi-stemmed trees may pose an increased risk of breaking—especially if the joints between the diverging trunks are sharply V-shaped versus U-shaped.
The bottom line on tree damage and insurance
In conclusion, if you have any concerns about the trees on your property, it’s always worth the money to contact a certified arborist. The Massachusetts Arborists Association offers a local arborist search tool, so you can find an expert in your area. And if you have more questions about trees and insurance, don’t hesitate to call us at 508.339.2951.