Thursday evening the rain and the temperatures fell as an arctic cold front came through Dallas, Fort Worth, and all of north Texas. Wet roads, power lines, trees, and shrubs began to accumulate ice. The ice built up, weighing down tree limbs and power lines causing them to sag. Limbs snapped from the weight of accumulated ice in the early hours of the morning sounding like rifle shots and landing with thumps in yards, on cars, and on rooftops.
Power lines snapped and tree limbs also took many lines out leaving 270,000 households without power and no real timeline as to when their electricity would be restored. My phone began to ring early Friday morning as clients called seeking direction on what their policies covered and whether they should file a home insurance claim or not. Others simply wanted to walk through the actions they should take as they sought a return to pre-storm normalcy.
There were two calls that were representative of what many people were experiencing as a result of the ice:
- The first call came from a family with a major tree limb that broke off from their neighbor’s tree and landed on their roof.
- The second call came from a family where a tree in their back yard had several branches snap off landing on their roof and one that went through the power line connected to their house.
Although the experiences were different, there were a couple of commonalities in the questions both families asked: what does their policy cover and who’s responsible?
In the first case, it was the neighbor’s tree whose limbs snapped off from the weight of the ice and landed on my client’s roof. I provided answers for him regarding his policy: it covers falling objects which includes falling tree limbs. The second question as to who’s responsible, his neighbor’s policy or his: it’s open to interpretation by the claims adjuster.
- Some policies provide a limited amount of coverage for damage to neighbor’s property such as limbs falling off the tree in your yard onto your neighbor’s roof. The amount of coverage is usually limited to an amount of $500.
- The other issue that will be evaluated is whether the neighbor had committed a negligent act. If the tree were visibly dying or diseased, then the neighbor may be considered negligent if he’s not had the tree trimmed or removed. If the tree were visibly healthy there is probably no act of negligence and my client’s policy would be the one responsible for the claim.
I reviewed the policy, advised my client of his deductible and suggested the following actions:
- Have his neighbor check with his agent to determine if there’s any coverage that would extend to a neighbor’s property.
- Document the fallen tree limbs on his roof by taking pictures, schedule a tree removal company to remove the limbs, and a roofer to inspect for damage.
- If the roof is damaged have the roofer provide him with a repair estimate and compare the total charges with his deductible.
Ultimately the combined cost for removing the limbs and any roof repairs may or may not exceed his deductible and he’ll know whether or not to file a claim.
In the second case, the client’s own tree limbs landed on his roof and took out his power line. We reviewed his policy acknowledging it covers falling objects and reviewed his deductible. I also suggested he document everything with pictures and wait until the roof was free of ice before getting on it to remove the fallen limbs. He will also need to have a roofer inspect it for damage and get an estimate for the repairs if needed.
When the power line was struck by the falling tree limb, it jerked one end from the power pole in the alley and bent the conduit on the home the line passes through into the home. In this case:
- The power company is responsible for re-attaching the power line to the pole.
- He’s responsible for any damage to the line where it attaches to the home.
My advice was to have an electrician inspect the conduit and the wire where it entered the home all the way to his electrical box. His policy would cover any needed repairs provided they exceed the deductible. If there was damage, get an estimate for repairs, add that to any required roof repairs and compare that with his deductible.
Ice storms present many challenges to home owners in North Texas and falling tree limbs is just one of them. How were you impacted and what did you do? Share your stories and questions with me in the comments section of our blog or on our Facebook page. I’d love to hear from you.