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Donnalynn Darling Writes 'When a Tree Falls...'

Nov 1, 2012

The destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy will cost billions of dollars to repair. The repair bill will include property damage caused by flood waters from rain and tidal surges, wind damage from wind itself and wind-borne debris, and damage from fallen trees.

If you have suffered any damage, you must first document the damage by taking photographs or videos of the damage. Then timely report the damage to your insurance carrier, even if you think someone else, like a neighbor, is responsible for the damage. Your carrier will initiate a claim and an adjuster may come to view the damage. Sometimes, when the damage is as extensive as it is with this storm, claims can be settled on photos alone, so take plenty of pictures.

In the case of flood damage caused by tidal surges, you must have flood insurance. Regular homeowner’s insurance will not cover this damage. Flood insurance is a separate policy, administered by the federal government for which a separate premium is paid.

Flooding from excessive rain water is covered by homeowners’ policies subject to your deductible. Damage from wind and flying debris is also covered, but some policies increase the deductible to a percentage of your total coverage in the case of Category 1 storms, so when reporting a claim, make sure you ask the broker or adjuster what the deductible for your claim will be. This will depend on your area and the storm category for your location.

Finally, when a neighbor’s tree falls and damages your property, your neighbor has no liability unless there was actual or constructive knowledge of the defective condition of the tree. This means that before the storm, the danger of the tree falling has to be obvious due to visible signs of rot, decay, or broken or dangerously overhanging branches. This element of knowledge or notice can also be established if you wrote a letter to your neighbor about the dangers created by dying or decayed trees, or other unstable structures. But the letter has to precede the event. As for the future, if your neighbor’s tree looks threatening, write them a letter – now!