Friday, January 22, 2021

Storm damage: Responsibilities explained

Staff Writer | January 14, 2021 1:00 AM

If a tree falls in a windstorm — who pays for the damage?

It depends on exactly where the damage occurs, according to a local insurance agent. It’s a common misconception that the owner of a tree is always responsible to pay for the damage caused by its fall.

“People have the impression that because it’s your tree, it’s your fault,” said Walter Litman, owner of Reliant Northwest Insurance in Coeur d’Alene. “That’s not the case.”

Litman pointed to a client as an example. A tree in the client’s yard fell in Wednesday’s windstorm, damaging his house, his neighbor’s shed and a shared fence.

The client’s insurance will cover damage to his house and half the fence, Litman said, while the neighbor’s insurance will pay for the neighbor’s shed and the remaining half of the fence damage.

There are some exceptions, Litman said, usually when negligence can be proved.

For instance, if a homeowner cuts a tree that falls on another person’s house, the homeowner is generally responsible for that damage.

“If they didn’t do anything negligent, it’s your loss,” Litman said.

A homeowners insurance policy may help cover the cost of removing a tree that falls and damages a home. But if the tree falls without causing damage, insurance often won’t cover the cost of cleanup.

Litman noted that a tree falling on a vehicle is handled by auto insurance, not homeowners insurance.

Homeowners are expected to mitigate damage as much as possible, Litman said.

“If you have a hole in your roof due to a fallen tree, it’s your responsibility to make sure water doesn’t get in overnight,” he said. “You have a responsibility to make sure it doesn’t get worse.”