Answers to questions about wind damage to your home, fences, tree removal and liability to others.
The recent windstorm of November 16th brought us a storm of more than 50 phone calls regarding wind damage claims. The powerful wind blew off roofs, damaged vehicles and fences, up-rooted trees, and blew outdoor items and debris everywhere. We want you to know how your Homeowners policy responds to different types of wind damage claims. Answers to questions like…
- The wind blew off part of my roof – will my Homeowner’s policy cover it?
- The wind blew down my fence – is it covered by my Homeowner’s policy?
- My tree blew down and damaged my neighbor’s car – am I liable for the damage?
- My big tree blew over and fell in my yard – will my homeowner’s policy pay to have it removed?
Think you know the answers? You may be surprised. Read below for answers to these common and important questions.
1. The wind blew off part of my roof! Will my Homeowners policy cover it?
YES! The typical Homeowners policy and most property policies include coverage for windstorm damage to your home, other structures, and personal property subject to your deductible. Windstorm is a covered peril for losses under most property forms: HO-6, HO-5, HO-4, HO-3, HO-2 and similar property forms containing Special and Broad Form coverage. However, the rarely used HO-1 or Basic property form does not provide coverage for windstorm.
2. The wind blew down my fence – is it covered by my Homeowner’s policy?
YES! As in question 1, the typical Homeowners policy may cover a fence in one of two ways - as an “Other Structure” under Coverage B of the policy and damage from windstorm is not excluded; and/or cover a fence under “Additional Coverages” for collapse and windstorm is a Coverage C covered peril. Loss is subject to your property deductible.
3. My tree blew down and damaged my neighbor’s car – am I liable for the damage?
NO! This issue is among the most misunderstood by the average person. Although you may feel bad for your neighbor and even feel somehow responsible, under “Tort” or “Common” law, the finding of legal liability requires that you be found “negligent”. A windstorm is considered an “Act of God”, a legal term for natural events outside of human control for which no one can be held responsible. This well established common law is why a claim of this type is almost always denied for liability.
This issue becomes clearer when you take your example from windstorm to tornado. Now your tree travels across town before falling on a car. You can see, for very practical reasons, no one is held legally responsible for natural disasters. You can’t have every neighbor suing each other for the variety of property flying everywhere. So, everyone must assume the risk of loss to their own valuables caused by events of nature. If your neighbor didn’t buy “other than collision (comprehensive)” coverage for his damaged vehicle then he self-insured his loss. That’s not your problem. Your neighbor was gambling the value of his vehicle every day from any and all causes.
NOTE: Your neighbor may not want to get a legal liability lesson from you. Call us and let us explain this to your neighbor, keep you out of the middle, and on good terms. In the unlikely event you are sued, your Homeowners policy contains protection for “Personal Liability” under Coverage E and will defend you up to your selected limit from claims of property damage liability, even if frivolous or groundless.
4. My big tree blew over and fell in my yard – will my homeowner’s policy pay to have it removed?
NO – sorry. I know this is a disappointing answer but the reason it is not covered is important to understand. First, your Homeowners policy is primarily concerned with insuring real and personal property – your home, other structures, and personal property. Any coverage afforded to “trees” is incidental to the policy.
Under ADDITIONAL COVERAGES, 1. Debris Removal the typical Homeowners policy will pay up to $500 for removal of tree(s) felled by the peril of Windstorm BUT only when the tree caused damage to a covered structure. So, in the question above, a big tree blew over but didn’t damage a structure so no coverage can be provided.
There are other very practical reasons that coverage for trees is limited or not provided. Trees, after all, are living things with a life cycle. Disease, drought, or other cause may kill all or part of a tree. If insurance covered the cost to remove trees there would be no incentive for home owners to remove dead trees from their property. They would simply wait for the next windstorm and call their insurance agent for coverage. Also, some home properties include acreage with a forest of trees. Insuring items like trees that can lead to numerous and extremely common claims would cause premiums to raise for all Homeowners policies.
Disclaimer: This article contains general insurance information only and is not to be relied upon as a substitute for insurance counsel on a specific individual claim. If you have questions please Contact Us.
Monday, February 11, 2013 at 4:05pm PST
Lost power, tenant had to relocate. Am I, as Landlord responsible for her relocation expenses?
John B Sullivan, CIC
Monday, February 11, 2013 at 5:48pm PST
Hi Marie – Good question to ask! In nearly every case, you are NOT liable as a landlord to re-locate at your expense a tenant after a power-outage or fire or any other cause. Under tort law you would need to do something “negligent” to be financial liable to another person.
The rental or lease agreement you have tenants sign should also state that you are not liable for their personal property however lost or relocation, etc. with them agreeing to hold you harmless after a loss. In absence of a rental agreement there is still no liability ascribed to the Landlord to relocate tenants. The only way you would have liability is if you assumed it by signing a contract for low income housing or some other agreement with a governing authority that contained that kind of provision. I would think that would be unlikely and rare.
Also, a tenant should purchase an HO-4 Tenants Homeowners to obtain their own coverage for personal property and “Loss of Use / Extra Expense” coverage to provide them “first party” coverage after a loss.