The straight line winds that struck Dallas last week sheared limbs from trees and blew a lot of trees over. Some had their trunks snapped while others were simply pushed over exposing their roots by the 75 plus mile per hour winds. When the trees fell, they landed harmlessly on a person’s yard, or they landed on the homes they shaded, cars parked in the driveway, or other structures. Seeing the destruction a tree can cause, I was reminded of a claim I saw early in my career.
A friend of mine was a client at the agency where I learned about insurance and insurance claims. My friend owns several rental properties across parts of Dallas, many of them with large, mature trees. On a day that was absent of the wind that struck Dallas last week, a tree in the yard of one of his rental properties simply fell over.
The tree missed the home next door, as well as the neighbor sitting on the front porch, but fell straight down their driveway. Parked in the driveway were three cars that were crushed like an empty soda can. All three cars were total losses. My friend felt horrible but wasn’t sure if he was at fault. The neighbor was certain my friend was responsible since it was my friend’s tree that crushed all three cars.
There are two ways this claim can be handled; it can either be determined to be my friend’s fault or it can be determined to not be anyone’s fault and handled as a comprehensive claim on the neighbor’s car insurance. What determines this is the tree.
In order for it to be filed on the rental property’s insurance, the tree would need to be visibly diseased or look dead. When a tree appears to be diseased, dead, or dying, the property owner should have the tree cut down and removed. Failure to do so, can be determined to be a negligence act. If the tree falls due to the property owner’s negligence, the owner of the crushed cars has a legitimate claim against the property owner’s insurance.
If, however, the tree appears to be perfectly healthy there can be no negligence on the part of the property owner. At this point, the claim shifts from being the responsibility of the property owner to being the responsibility of the owners of each of the cars in the driveway. When this happens, it will be paid as a comprehensive claim, providing the owners of the cars have comprehensive insurance. If there’s no comprehensive insurance, the car owners will be liable to replace the cars and repay the loan balance if any car were to still be financed.
In this case, the tree appeared to be visibly healthy; it was not discovered to be diseased until it fell. My friend’s insurance company refused to pay the claim filed against it by the neighbors for their crushed cars, as there was no negligent act. The claim went back to the neighbor’s car insurance company to be handled as a comprehensive claim.
Has something like this ever happened to you? Share your experiences, thoughts or questions with us in the comments section of our blog or on our Google + and Facebook pages. I’d love to hear from you!