Insurance and Trees

Due to our company offering tree removal in Hamilton, we know that dealing with a tree failure can be stressful enough, and having to deal with insurance can only compound that stress. So our hope here is to help make the process of filing a claim as seamless as possible, and perhaps even save you some money.

It is hard to be really specific in terms of offering specific advice in the area of insurance since there is no one size fits all insurance policy. There are many variants between insurance companies and even policy to policy within that company. This makes it all the more important for you to read through your policy to be well prepared. If it is too difficult to wade through all the legal speak then reach out to your insurance broker for more clarification.

We divided this article into two sections. The first outlines the prep work we recommend you do before ever having to deal with an insurance claim. The second section outlines what to do immediately following a tree failure.

Prior to An Insurance Claim

Tree on House

1) Know who owns the tree

Sounds straightforward right? Well, we run into many instances where a homeowner thinks that they own a tree in their front yard only to discover later that it belongs to the municipality. Vice versa scenario also arises. It is important to understand that just because a tree is on your front lawn, this does not mean that you own it!

You need to know who owns that tree. If a branch breaks during a storm (read more about the urban canopy and ice storm preparedness), you need to know whether to call a private tree service provider or the city to clean it up. It is better to know this ahead of time than to be scrambling in the event of a storm. Or perhaps even worse; find out that you paid a tree company to clean up the tree and then realize the city would have taken care of it for free.

Call your local forestry department and they may be able to tell you over the phone who owns the tree, in some situations they will have to send out a forestry rep to confirm. Another scenario is in regards to alleyways. Here in Hamilton, alleyways are granted the titled as being “unassumed”. In layman’s terms, the city does not claim any responsibility to prune or remove these trees, the responsibility falls solely on you and any neighbours that border the tree.

2. Know your policy

Every policy is a little different. Some policies will not cover the cost of removing the tree. It will only cover the cost of getting the tree off of the house/shed/garage/pool/etc. but it will not cover the cost of removing the tree off of the property.

Knowing your policy also involves know what policy the tree work falls under. If a vehicle is damaged it goes on that vehicle’s insurance policy. If your property is damaged it goes on your home insurance policy. If your neighbour’s tree caused damaged to your property… it also goes on your home insurance policy. Your home insurance policy may try to recuperate their loss by getting money back from the neighbours home insurance policy, but it always initiates from your home insurance policy.

3. Know your deductible

A deductible is the cash value amount that must be paid to the insurance company before they step in to cover the rest of the costs for the damages incurred. Deductibles can carry quite the range, anywhere from $500 to $10,000. If the damage to your property is relatively minor, it may not be worth going through insurance as most clean ups for tree failures on small to medium sized trees fall well below the higher end of the spectrum.

If you do happen to have a high deductible it is all the more important to have a rainy day fund in case a tree incident (or other incident for that matter) does arise.

4. Document. Document. Document.

It doesn’t matter if the tree in question belongs to you, your neighbour, or the city — you should document any particular areas of concern (although please don’t access a neighbour’s property without permission). Remember, due diligence is key to insurance claims.

Two of the best ways to document a tree are a) through pictures and b) through a report by a certified arborist.

Documentation is a way of proving to the insurance company that the policy holder has been responsible with the management of the tree on or near their property. This is important because if the policy holder has been negligent then the insurance company is less likely to want to cover the cost of damages.

You can prove you have not been negligent by a) documenting the condition tree and b) carrying out a reasonable response.

It must be said, just because a tree is large does not mean that a reasonable response is to cut the tree down or even to shorten the tree. In fact, shortening a tree often makes the tree a greater risk but that is a whole other article unto itself. There are many, many large trees that are perfectly healthy that are actually considered to be low risk. There must be a clear sign of stress to merit concern for the safety of a tree.

If you are looking to self assess a tree, here are some of the primary areas of stress to document:

  • a) Medium to large broken branches or dead branches.
  • b) Cavities in the tree (including signs of animals entering the tree).
  • c) Mushrooms growing on the tree or on the ground close to it.
  • d) Noticeable increase in the lean (the roots may be starting to lift out of the ground)
  • e) Sections of the tree that appear to be splitting.

Another note, just because a tree is stressed, this may not mean that it has reached the tipping point where tree pruning or removal needs to be performed. Please consult a certified arborist before performing any work.

In the Event of a Tree Failure

Here is our recommended process if you should experience tree or branch failure on your property (and for further reading have a look at the 6 ways to protect yourself in case of tree/branch failure):

1) Notify all appropriate parties

Here are a few examples of who that might be:

  • If hydro lines are hit then call 911 and your local hydro authority and stay in your home.
  • If the tree originates and/or falls into a neighbours property, they should be notified.
  • If the tree or branch in question is hovering over walkways or parking spaces then the section should carefully be cordoned off.

2) Take Pictures and/or a Video(s)

The more pictures and videos you take of the tree and of the damage to the property the better it will help insurance as well as tree service providers plan the next course of action.

3) Notify your insurance Company

Insurance companies are fairly responsive but there are 2 situations that will help expedite the process for you. The first is in a scenario where a delayed response will create more damage to persons or property. For example, a tree punctures a roof. This needs to be dealt with ASAP because a delay in responding can create more damage to the home and therefore the insurance company may have to cover a higher cost. Another situation where insurance will be extra responsive is if personal safety is at risk. A good example of this would be if a tree fell and blocked an emergency exit from the building. In these situations you should almost simultaneously be reaching out to a tree company to get this taken care of, irregardless of whether you are able to get through to insurance.

One more quick note regarding working with your insurance provider. They may ask you to get 3 quotes from tree service providers before having the tree cleaned up. From all of our discussions and research on this topic, we have yet to see that the policy holder is obligated to get 3 quotes for the insurance company. You want this done as soon as possible, receiving 3 quotes following a storm can take quite a bit of time and incur added stress onto you. If you have a company that you know, like, and trust, you can tell insurance that is who you want to work with.

4) Notify a reputable tree service company

Having those pictures can be really helpful, particularly in the event of a storm. When a storm hits, a tree companies phone can be “ringing off the hook” as the expression goes. Just like doctors perform triage following a catastrophic event, so do arborists. The tree rested on a house will take priority over a tree rested on a fence.

When reaching out to a tree service provider ensure that they are equipped and capable of handling the situation at hand. You need to provide enough information to the tree service provider so that they can ascertain whether they have the expertise and equipment to handle the work. For example, some tree service providers aren’t positioned to take on jobs that involve a crane or a bucket truck.

Our Final Thoughts

If you are still needing some assistance, please reach out to us by either visiting our contact page or giving us a call. We would love to be able to help give you a better idea if you’re struggling.

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