TULSA - To paraphrase Robert Frost, sometimes good trees make good neighbors; but fallen trees or limbs can lead to some bitter disputes.
There's often confusion about who has the responsibility to file an insurance claim if a tree or limb falls and does property damage when the tree sat on person's property, but the damage occurred on the neighbor's land.
Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak says state law is clear in Oklahoma.
"If it falls on your home or your property, you need to contact your insurance company unless there is a known issue with the tree or limb that has been ongoing with your neighbor," he said.
"There might be some mitigating damage or some subrugation which might occur if there was extenuating circumstances," he added, but generally, "it's the responsibility of the owner on whose property the tree limb fell to contact their homeowner's insurance provider."
So, if Mr. Smith's tree falls on Mr. Jones' roof, Mr. Jones has to call his insurance agent and file a claim.
The only exception would be if Mr. Smith had previously noted that the tree was dead or damaged and likely to fall on his home, and could prove he had alerted Mr. Jones to the need to deal with the tree prior to the storm which brought it down.
More information from the Oklahoma Insurance Commission:
Am I Covered?
Property damage caused by fallen trees can be the most misunderstood coverage in a homeowners insurance policy. If you carry homeowners insurance, you will be covered for damage to a structure and its contents from fallen trees and branches. The cost to remove the tree or limb is also covered by the insurer. Additionally, your homeowners policy will cover damages when the tree is on someone else’s property and has caused damage to your structure or property. An example of this would be if a tree limb is stretching across your property and falls due to wind, lightning or hail, causing damage to a structure such as the house, garage or fence. In other words, it is the responsibility of the owner on whose property the tree limb fell to contact their homeowners insurance provider.
In most cases, the homeowner who sustained the damage files an insurance claim. However, if your neighbor knew that their tree was a safety concern and nothing was done, your neighbor could be considered negligent. This could be true if the tree was in poor health or not properly maintained. The policyholder’s insurance company may try to collect from the neighbor’s insurance company in a process known as subrogation. If the insurer is successful, you may be reimbursed for the deductible.
Always remember that safety is first. If you have sustained damage, safely protect your property from additional damage and take photos of the damage. Keep receipts of any necessary purchases, such as supplies for emergency repairs.
Knowing the inclusions and limitations of your homeowners policy can seem tough to navigate, but it always helps to check with your insurer anytime you sustain damages to check on what is and isn’t covered.
Most vehicle damage caused by falling ice is covered under the optional comprehensive portion of your auto insurance policy.
It is important to contact your insurance agent for questions you may have about your coverage.
For more information or help with other insurance questions, please contact the Oklahoma Insurance Department’s Consumer Assistance Team at 1-800-522-0071.