Quick Facts on Tree Fall Damage: Causes, Responsibility, and What to Watch Out for
- –Dead or dying trees fall for a number of reasons– insect infestation, poor soil conditions, old age, etc.
- –Healthy trees fall from a combination of oversaturation of water, anchored root system disconnect, and high winds, or other forceful weather events.
- –Tree Fall Damage is covered in homeowner’s insurance policies
- -A tree falling across property lines means potential damage across property lines. Each property is responsible for filing independent claims with their own insurance to cover the damage done within their own property lines.
- –Maintain a regular check on the health of the trees on your property to ensure an awareness that will keep everyone and all property safe.
Read on for more details and what to look for when checking the health of your trees-
As the holidays have come to a close and we are all getting back into the flow of our lives on this side of all the cheer, its hard to remember sometimes that we are indeed still in winter.
Though, admittedly, with the frequent arctic cold fronts coming more each year, having us bundled with a few extra layers, it can be easy to remember the season – and all its added risks- at least for a moment.
‘Tis the Season…for Awareness of Tree Fall Damage
It really is the season…still.
But its not just the season for the joy, the wrapped bundles of excitement, and the toys. Its the season of winter, and as with every big seasonal change in the weather outside, there are quite a few things to still be attentive to.
In the most extreme wintery conditions, it can be icy roads, or weather damage to your home due to ice, wind, hail, or excessive snow. In fact, in the first half of 2021’s winter, there were $15.2 billion in insured losses caused by winter storms.
That’s nearly 7x the average yearly insured winter losses since 2013.
The costliest winter event, by the standards of insured losses since 1950, was the Polar Vortex event from February 12th – 20th of 2021- this was the front that caused the great freeze throughout Texas, bringing with it the residential, commercial, and city wide damages, putting the state as a whole into a state of emergency.
With all that in mind, you might be thinking, “Am I covered and insured for…well, all of that?”
And, you probably are, though, it is always good to remember that there are a few things you might not know you need to know.
Think of this for a second- if a storm were to whip through your area, and a tree were to fall and damage your property, is that tree fall damage covered? What if it falls across your property line and damages a neighbor’s property? What if it were more than one neighbor’s property- who is responsible? Who files the claim?
“Does tree fall insurance even exist? Do I need it?”
Tree Fall Damage: the Causes
Considering all the seasonal risks we have explained over these past wintery months, you might not have expected tree fall damage to come up as something to be aware of. Every season has its unique seasonal risks, though:
In Spring, there is flooding; in summer, fires; and in fall, with the first unexpected freeze, there is the risk of frozen pipes.
In winter though, there is the toppling of trees- and yes, even the healthy ones.
Trees fall for all sorts of reasons (and, thus, tree fall damage can occur due to all the same reasons):
- -Improper planting conditions
- -Advanced insect infestations
- -Poor soil conditions
- -Construction damage
- -Old age
But, why do healthy trees fall? If its healthy, should you be worried about tree fall damage?
There are a combination of seasonal risk factors that overlap to create the situation where you might be searching Google for “tree fall insurance” hoping you would be covered by unexpected tree fall damage from what you thought was a perfectly healthy and safe tree.
Those factors are often a mix of water, earth and air-
- -Oversaturation of the ground around the tree from rains, melting snow, or even over-watering
- -Damaged root systems from the freezing and thawing of the ground, disconnecting the tree from its secured anchor
- -High winds pushing and pulling the upper regions of the trees, creating the topple effect
These three layered elements can lead to the tree being uprooted from soggy soils and pulled down by the wind, risking the inevitable of tree fall damage.
Tree Fall Damage: Some Serious Business
A falling tree can be some real serious business.
Homes and cars can experience tree fall damage from the obvious impact of tree to object. Even under home plumbing or irrigation can be at risk of tree fall damage from the uprooting of a deeply intertwined root system as a part of the whole process.
At its worst, though, there can be damage done that is truly unimaginable and irrevocable.
Putting it in that perspective, our proprietary service area, the Pacific Northwest, is known for both its rain and its wind. On December 28th of 2022, a winter storm passed through that rose to the 3rd costliest winter event since 1950. Tragically, it was during this wind storm, 3 collisions occurred on Oregon highways from falling trees. These accidents resulted in 5 deaths.
Tree fall damage does not always account for loss of life, though it brings the awareness of what can be lost in the event of a tree falling.
Tree Fall Damage: Coverage
Since it is still winter, it is, indeed, still rainy, cold, and windy.
This can present challenges in the areas we live in: those with a high emphasis on a real realization of a priority on healthy trees, healthy landscapes, even perhaps a municipal consistent pursuit in earning the moniker of “tree city USA” such as Ashland and Talent have here in Oregon.
With these decisions, though, come risks! And those risks will include some tree fall damage risk.
Accounting for the risk is not to discount the value of having trees on one’s property. It is simply an invitation to consider what comes with that tree itself.
First of all, in our limited experience, negligence can be difficult to prove. In the world of insurance, negligence is an important distinction to be aware of in terms of whether reasonable action is taken, especially with the awareness of potential risk looming.
And again, healthy trees dont always prompt the concern for tree fall damage.
It should also be known that the property boundaries in Oregon and neighboring states extend infinitely skyward, all the way up to the tippity top of those trees.
Why does this need to be addressed?
Think of it this way: a large tree of any significant height, when it falls will fall upon or even across multiple neighbors‘ property boundaries. That is tree fall damage reach across property lines.
The courts have held, without one party being able to prove negligence on a significant almost and obtainable level, that each party involved in the tree fall damage is responsible for what occurs on their own property. Yes, that means what happened on their own property even if the tree wasnt from their property!
So, if I have a 100 foot tree on my property, and in a windstorm, it falls across my home and damages fences and structures of my next two neighbors’ property, ALL THREE would file separate claims on separate homeowners policies to pay for three different “falling object“ claims. It doesn’t feel fair! But it is how it works.
The removal of the fallen tree, damage to fencing, damage to structures, damage to personal property, etc. would be covered by the three different home insurance policies.
If I had somehow been notified of the inherent danger, by neighbors in writing, in the past and they were able to prove that I was solely and grossly negligent to the fact that I should have known to cut the trees back, with the evidence that they had told me in writing in advance, then perhaps there’s a case for one or more of their individual homeowners policies to subrogate against mine, to reimburse them for their deductible, and for their insurance companies‘ claims payments. But normally, that is not the case.
Tree Fall Damage: What to Do to Avoid the Damage
With all of that in mind, now you are most likely thinking- so, what do I do?
Becoming informed from articles like this is always a beneficial step one. Awareness helps in most, if not all cases, as you are trying to navigate potential risks. There are a few other things you can do too.
Check (and stay up to date!) on the health of your trees
- Watch out for fall-risk branches: dead or broken branches, or those shed in a tree’s self pruning process, often called widow makers, are the pieces of tree at risk of detaching and dislodging from the tree itself, sending it down to the ground below. To keep an eye out for these will keep you connected to the immediate dangers of a tree as well as the overall health of your trees.
- Large cavities or cracks in the trunk of the tree: if these are present, there is a clear indication of the tree’s weakened integrity, alluding to the risk of a partial break or fall, and the impending tree fall damage.
- Take note of the foliage color and abundance: Dead standing, or dying trees – the ones that would be exhibiting signs of unhealthy root systems- often show their health in their leaves. Check to see if they are changing with the seasons to the right colors and maintain the right densities. If you need more acute information on the species you have on your property, reach out to your local nurseries.
- Check for mushroom growth: Oftentimes, mushrooms will begin to grow up the trunks of dead standing, or dying trees. They also grow around dying root systemes, giving you the opportunity to check the health of something that is otherwise incredibly hard to see.
- Check for disease: certain plants experience a specific risk of disease centralized to that species. Certain pines experience bark beetle damage that will kill entire groves all at once, while not moving to other species. Again, know your trees and what they are susceptible to. Your local nursery will have lots of information for you.
Beyond tree health remember to keep a keen awareness of your local weather, especially now that you know what to watch out for.
And dont forget, your neighbors can be your resources. Stay connected as oftentimes only knowing the underside of the tree right outside the front door doesn’t always give the best vantage to the tree as a whole.
Of course, also get in with your insurance agent as to what tree fall damage might look like in your homeowner’s insurance policy. Reach out with any questions, and we can help you navigate your policy with what’s planted in your backyard.