Your Tree, Your Neighbor’s Property: Whose Insurance Pays?

And how to be a good neighbor when your tree drops by uninvited.

Second only to the question of the sound of a tree falling in a forest is who’s on the hook when a tree falls across a property line. But the answer is fairly straightforward, at least from an insurance perspective.

If your neighbor’s property is damaged by your tree, then they should file a claim with their insurance company. If the tree damages their house or other structures (such as a garage, shed or fence), their homeowners policy will generally pay to fix the damage. If the tree damages your neighbor’s car, then their auto insurance policy’s comprehensive coverage usually pays to repair it.

Hurricanes — a frequent source of both damage and claims — can complicate things, said Mark Friedlander, director of corporate communications at the Insurance Information Institute. Sometimes, the origins of a tree limb can’t be determined, as in windstorms, trees, shrubs and branches can become projectiles capable of traveling great distances. “To process your claim, your insurance adjuster will typically not spend much time trying to locate exactly where the tree originally lived,” Friedlander explained.

Robert P. Hartwig, director of the Center for Risk and Uncertainty Management at the University of South Carolina, also puts the responsibility on the homeowner’s insurer. But he said he advises people to try to be good neighbors: The owner of the property where the tree was growing could offer to pay the insurance deductible.

Hartwig said he did this when he lived in Westchester County, N.Y., several years ago. A heavy thunderstorm with wind blew down a tree on the edge of his property. The tree was so large that it fell onto the street and destroyed part of the chain-link fence of his neighbor across the road. The elderly man who lived there was so upset, he came outside, unbuttoned his shirt to reveal a scar from years-prior open heart surgery, and exclaimed, “You’re killing me! You’re killing me!” Hartwig said he apologized and explained the man’s own homeowners insurance would  cover the damage. Hartwig offered to cover the deductible, which turned out to be $500. “By the next day, he was super friendly and everything was fine,” Hartwig recalled. “And he soon got a better fence than the old one that was there.”

But a tree owner isn’t necessarily in the clear. If the tree owner is negligent in caring for the tree, sometimes the insurance company may seek reimbursement from the tree owner’s property insurer in a process called subrogation. This can happen if the tree was in poor health or not properly maintained. “If your insurer is successful in the subrogation process, you may be reimbursed for the deductible paid for the claim,” Friedlander said.

In addition to the cost of repairing an insured structure, Friedlander said homeowners policies may contribute to the cost of removing the tree itself, typically up to $500 to $1,000, depending on the insurer and the policy. But if the tree didn’t cause damage to a structure, the policy will usually not cover debris removal. In some instances, however, such as when the felled tree blocks a driveway or a ramp for the disabled, some insurers may cover that removal cost.

Finally, Friedlander added, if a falling tree or branch damages a vehicle, the optional comprehensive portion of an auto policy --  the vehicle owner's-- will cover that. Friedlander said about 80% of motorists in the U.S. carry comprehensive coverage.

Most Popular

What Are the Income Tax Brackets for 2022 vs. 2021?
tax brackets

What Are the Income Tax Brackets for 2022 vs. 2021?

Depending on your taxable income, you can end up in one of seven different federal income tax brackets – each with its own marginal tax rate.
September 20, 2022
Your Guide to Roth Conversions
Special Report
Tax Breaks

Your Guide to Roth Conversions

A Kiplinger Special Report
February 25, 2021
19 Best Stocks to Buy Now for High Upside Potential

19 Best Stocks to Buy Now for High Upside Potential

Finding the best stocks to buy when the market is selling off can be daunting, but the pros believe these 19 top-rated names are poised for big return…
September 23, 2022


Looking to Relocate? Plan for Climate Change
buying a home

Looking to Relocate? Plan for Climate Change

Extreme weather events are on the rise. If you’re moving, make sure your new home is protected from climate change disasters.
July 28, 2022
Homeowners Insurance: How to Protect Your Home
Brandon Copeland

Homeowners Insurance: How to Protect Your Home

NFL linebacker and Kiplinger contributing editor Brandon Copeland discusses the ins and outs of homeowners insurance.
June 8, 2022
Short-Term Insurance Plans' Good, Bad and Ugly

Short-Term Insurance Plans' Good, Bad and Ugly

You'll need a clear-eyed analysis to gauge the value of short-term care insurance plans and if they're right for you.
May 26, 2022
Things You’ll Regret Keeping in a Safe Deposit Box

Things You’ll Regret Keeping in a Safe Deposit Box

Locking up certain important documents and valuables in a bank vault could turn into a headache for you or your heirs.
May 18, 2022