A powerful wind storm gusting to more than 60 miles per hour left a swath of devastation in Consumers Union's neighborhood last weekend. Trees fell willy-nilly on homes, autos, power lines and, sadly, people. Tens of thousands were left without power. Six people in the New York Metro area died from storm-related injuries.
Many homeowners found themselves contacting their insurance companies for help with fallen trees. The Insurance Information Institute (III), a trade group representing property and casualty insurers, offers the following information about such coverage from the typical homeowners insurance policy:
• Damage to your home and its contents, and other structures on the property, is covered. That's true regardless of whether the tree was growing on your property or your neighbor's. There's generally a cap of 10 percent on coverage for structures other than your home, such as a detached garage.
• You're responsible for the deductible. If the storm in question is classified as a named hurricane—this one wasn't—you could be responsible instead for the hurricane deductible, which often is much larger because it's calculated as a percentage of the home's insured value. (According to Loretta Worters, a III spokesperson, states have differing definitions of what would trigger a hurricane deductible. In New Jersey, for instance, the definition includes hurricane watches or warnings from the National Weather Service, and winds of at least 74 miles per hour somewhere in the state.)
• If the tree was the neighbor's, your insurer might go after the neighbor's insurer to cover its costs. In that case, you may be reimbursed for your deductible.
• Homeowners insurance typically covers the costs of removing the tree or shrub that fell on an insured structure. There is generally a cap of $500 or $1,000 per tree/shrub.
• The standard policy replaces trees and shrubs damaged by fire, vandalism, lightning and several other perils, but not water or wind. Again, there are generally limits to how much will be reimbursed.
• If a fallen tree doesn't damage your home or other structures but blocks a driveway or ramp for the disabled, insurance may pay to have it removed. Otherwise, homeowners insurance won't cover tree removal, unless your policy has an endorsement specifying that coverage.
• Damage to your automobile is covered by the comprehensive portion of your auto insurance policy.
The III has a useful video on fallen trees, as well as more details on tree damage. Consumer Reports offers advice on dealing with a big claim, as well as Ratings of homeowners insurers for claims service.—Tobie Stanger