Trees down? Here's what insurance will cover

By: South Carolina Insurance News
By: South Carolina Insurance News
Portion of a tree down on Milledge Road

Portion of a tree down on Milledge Road. (June 16, 2011 / WRDW-TV)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Trees are much beloved in South Carolina, especially the massive old trees that give our neighborhoods so much character. If you don’t think so, just follow the debate when utility or municipal tree trimmers move into an area.

Yet, having trees in a home’s yard is a big responsibility – one not to be taken lightly. When bad weather hits, those big branches and huge tree trunks can drop like bombs on houses, cars, storage sheds and outdoor living areas. Recent severe thunderstorms have illustrated this risk all too well.

If a tree hits a home or other insured structure such as a garage, a standard homeowner’s insurance policy will cover the damage to the building and its contents. But there are often misunderstandings about what is covered relating to trees.

“The biggest thing we see is when a liability issue arises,” said Jon Jensen, an independent insurance agent in Spartanburg. “If your tree fell on my car – why do I have to file a claim and pay the deductible?” But if a neighbor’s tree blows over in a storm, it’s considered an act of God and you file with your own insurance company, Jensen said.

Many insurance policies will also cover the cost of removal of the tree from your property, up to $500 or $1,000.

Some insurers will cover removal of a downed tree that is blocking a driveway or ramp designed to assist the handicapped. And if a falling tree hits a car, the damage is covered under the auto insurance policy’s comprehensive provisions. But if the tree falls on your property without hitting a structure or car, the removal expense is not covered – another factor that is often misunderstood.

Issues with trees and insurance predate the United States of America. In 1752 in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin helped form one of the first fire insurance companies, The Philadelphia Contributionship for the Insuring of Houses from Loss by Fire. However, houses with trees in front of them were not insured because early water hoses could not maneuver around them.

To avoid problems with trees, here are some suggestions:

• Remove dead trees or limbs before a storm hits. This will prevent damage, and also can save money, as tree-trimming prices often go up when a storm increases demand. If your homeowner’s insurance deductible is $500 or $1,000, you will pay most of the cost anyway.
• Remove limbs that hang over your house or other structures, including buildings in your neighbors’ yards.
• Don’t over-prune a tree, as this can weaken it or cause its early demise.
• Watch out for trees with cracks or hollows and trees with mushrooms growing on bark, all signs of poor health.

When selecting a tree to plant in your yard, here are some tips:

• Consider the growing conditions needed: soil, moisture, light.
• Study the mature size and shape of the tree to make sure it will fit where you plant it.
• Learn how the tree stands up to weather common in your area, such as ice, snow or drought.
• Find out if the tree species is subject to disease, rot or insects.
• Consider recommended locations to make sure you have the right place for it.
• For information on varieties of trees, check this link:
www.state.sc.us/forest/refsel.htm


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