Did you ever hear the philosophical question “If a tree falls in the woods when no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” Insurance companies have their own twist on that.  If a tree falls on your property is it covered by your homeowner insurance policy? Sometimes yes and sometimes no!

The common homeowner policy covers damage or loss to trees, shrubs, lawns, and other plants on the residence premises for a loss that is caused by one of the following  perils: fire, lightning, explosion, riot/civil commotion, aircraft, theft, vandalism/malicious mischief, or vehicles (when not owned or operated by a resident of the insured premises).  That means that if someone went off the road and ran over your lawn or shrubs, you’d be covered for that. But if a hurricane or blizzard caused the tree to snap, the tree would not be covered. Your policy also likely has a maximum amount they will pay for one of those covered losses. In most cases it is $500 per tree, shrub, or plant and up to a total of 5% of your home’s insured value. That means a home insured for $300,000 would have coverage for up to $15,000.

You will note that the list of covered perils does not include insect damage. As you drive around the area you can see many trees that are damaged or “diseased”. The Oak Worms and Gypsy Moth caterpillars have weakened many trees. This has allowed carpenter ants and other insects to bore into the trees taking the remaining life out of your trees.

Another peril not covered is trees and shrubs damaged from windstorms or the weight of ice and snow. If we experience an ice storm and branches are ripped from your trees and shrubs, disfiguring them, there is no coverage for that. During the winter of 2015, I experienced extensive damage to my home from ice dams. The shrubs in the front of my home were damaged beyond recovery and had to be removed.  There was coverage for the buildup of ice and snow to the house but not for the shrubs.

The fact that there is no coverage for the damage to the trees and shrubs due to windstorm, hurricane, or insects does not mean coverage is excluded for the clean up when a tree or its limbs fall. However, I wouldn’t be writing this article if there weren’t more limitations to consider for that!

Normally there is no coverage for the value of a tree or for the removal of a tree that is blown down in your yard. While trees are covered property, they are only covered for the perils previously noted. Word that you don’t have coverage for the removal of a large tree covering your front lawn can be very upsetting. But there are several situations where the tree removal is covered.

Do you have a handicap access ramp to your home? If a tree falls and blocks access to a handicap access ramp leading into an insured residence premises, coverage must apply; although still subject to the regular homeowner deductible. Same is true when a tree blocks a driveway on the “residence premesis” which prevents a motor vehicle that is registered for use on public roads from entering or leaving the “residence premises”.

Anytime a tree falls and damages a covered structure, the coverage for the tree removal applies usually at $500 per tree and $ 1,000 maximum if multiple trees are involved. Covered structures on your policy include your home, a garage, a shed, a fence and even your children’s swing set or playscape; those items are covered for the damage done by the tree. The policy does not usually require a minimum amount of damage to the covered structure, just proof that the structure was struck by the tree with damage resulting.

Before you call in a tree service to remove a tree keep in mind that you likely still have a deductible that will need to be satisfied. Your homeowner policy likely has a deductible that would apply to any property related loss which is typically $500 or $1000. So, a $500 bill to remove the debris from a tree falling and damaging your pool fence will still need to satisfy the $500 deductible noted on your policy. In that case you might have to absorb the $500 tree removal expense so as to recover the $300 damage to your fence. Before you opt to submit such a claim, consider you will be losing a “loss free discount” for the next three years that likely is on your policy. The short term gain might be nice but in the long term, the claim ends up costing you more then you recovered.

Let’s assume a more involved situation involving a very large tree falling on and into your house. The removal of that tree is going to be very expensive. The cost of a professional tree service with a mobile crane will likely be needed to lift the tree off the house. The bill for that alone will likely run a few thousand dollars.  One insurance company might try to say you only have up to $1,000 as the “reasonable expense” for the tree debris removal. However in this scenario, I would argue that you are doing more than removing the tree debris; you are protecting the dwelling from further damage. Your policy provides, under the “duties after a loss” section, that “the insured must protect the property from further damage…and …make reasonable and necessary repairs to protect the property.”  The “dwelling” or “other structure” limit then becomes the maximum amount the insurance company must pay. The cost to remove the tree becomes part of the maximum amount the company will pay for the loss, but more than likely you are ending up much better off.

I included this article because many of us have trees that are standing dead near our homes. It will be much cheaper to remove them in advance of a winter blizzard and avoid the devastating effects a tree falling on your home could have.