Trees and Insurance Coverage

As winter ice storms give way to spring and summer tornadoes, which give way to fall hurricane season, there’s never a bad time to learn about limiting the financial losses caused by tree damage to your property. What’s covered? What isn’t? How can you minimize your losses?

“Many shade and ornamental trees are damaged throughout the year by windstonns, lightning or ice and snow accumulations,” notes Tchukki Andersen, staff arborist with the Tree Care Industry Association. “Damage usually consists of a few broken branches. However, more severe damage – such as splitting or pulling apart o f branch unions, removal o f large areas o f bark, twisting and splitting o f the trunk, or even uprooting – pose possible dangers.”

Homes or belongings damaged as a result of a fallen tree – whether it is your tree or a neighbor’s tree – are generally covered under your homeowners insurance policy. In some situations where the downed tree was on a neighbor’s property, your insurance company may try to collect from a neighbor’s insurance company if the tree was in poor health or not properly maintained. If the insurer is successful, you may be reimbursed for the deductible.

The cost to remove fallen trees may be covered if:

  • The tree was uprooted due to windstonn or fell after a lightning strike;
  • The tree damaged a structure such as a garage or shed; or
  • The tree missed the house but blocks the driveway or handicap access ways.

Your trees, shrubs, plants or lawn are generally NOT covered from damage. Vehicles damaged by debris or fallen trees are covered under the “other-than-collision” (also known as “comprehensive”) portion of an auto insurance policy. This is optional coverage that protects insured vehicles in situations other than a collision or overturn. If the forecast indicates severe weather ahead, cars should be moved under cover to prevent damage from high winds or flying debris.

Tree care tips before the storm

A few tree species, including Chinese elm, silver maple, boxelder and various poplars, have brittle wood that is easily broken. These rapidly growing trees cause a considerable amount of damage to homes, cars, buildings and utility lines each year.

“Homeowners should be aware of tree strength and avoid planting them close to potential targets,” advises Andersen. “If such trees are already growing in these locations, preventive pruning, bracing or cabling may help reduce stonn damage. This is particularly true as the tree grows in size and the weight and surface of the leaf and branch area increases.”

Over the years, growing trees will “catch” more wind and become heavier, so they are prone to increased mechanical stresses, thus increasing the chances of failure. Larger trees will also affect an increased area should they or their larger limbs fall. This means that power lines, homes and other structures that might not have been threatened a few years ago might now be under threat by a tree that has grown.

Preparing trees for these natural disasters is a must and should be done well in advance of the stonny season. To help ease these dan­ gers, have a professional arborist evaluate your trees. Doing this will help you detennine potential weaknesses and dangers.

Look at your trees for the following warning signs:

  • Wires in contact with tree branches. Trees may become energized when they are contacted by electric wires.
  • Dead or partially attached limbs hung up in the higher branches that could fall and cause damage or injury.
  • Cracked stems and branch forks that could cause catastrophic failure of a tree section.
  • Hollow or decayed areas on the trunk or main limbs, or mushrooms growing from the bark that indicate a decayed and weakened stem.
  • Peeling bark or gaping wounds in the trunk also indicate structural weakness.
  • Fallen or uprooted trees putting pressure on other trees beneath them.

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Southern Tree Services of Beaufort, SC