I recently received a distressed phone call from a long time Auto and Homeowner’s Insurance client. Although claims and the entire claims process is a part of my everyday workday, customers seldom have claims. When they do, it’s so important to understand how upset they are because the loss of your personal property is devastating. It appears they woke up that same morning to find one of the next door neighbor’s large trees had fallen on to their property. Not only did the tree take down 15 feet of Split Rail Fencing, it also destroyed their children’s brand new, and very expensive, Wooden Swing Set and Play System. The total damage was about $15,000.
I told my clients, Linda and Bill; “before we put in a claim with your insurer (Travelers Homeowners Insurance Company), you should first talk with your neighbor about the damage.” If they are the good neighbors you say they are, I’m sure they will want to do the right thing and pay for the damage caused by their tree. They explained the neighbor was away for the weekend and would return on Sunday night.
The following Monday morning, Bill looked out his window to find his neighbor sipping a cup of coffee and looking at all the damage caused by his fallen tree. Jim walked outside, greeted his neighbor of 10 years and asked him how his trip was. He also inquired how he wanted to handle the damage. The neighbor responded, “how I’m going to handle the damage” - He said; ”I’m not going to do anything.”
Bill laughed thinking his neighbor was joking. After a moment, it soon become clear to Bill his neighbor was not joking. The neighbor went on to explain; “I called the Claims Department of my Homeowners Insurance Company when I got home last night. The Claims Representative told me it’s not his responsibility and that his policy does not need to pay for a tree falling and damaging another’s property. Since the storm caused the tree to fall, It’s considered an ‘act of god.’”
Completely shocked and dismayed Bill replied, “Act of God! We have lived next door to each other for over 10 years. Our kids play ball together our wives are close friends, you have been a guest in my home on countless occasions. How about doing the right thing? How about the fact it’s your tree and it damaged my property. Don’t you feel any responsibility? This will cost me nearly $15,000.00 or more to repair and replace.”
The neighbor quietly proceeded to throw his cold coffee on the lawn and walk away.
A distraught Linda and Bill called me to tell me the story. The first question was “Mike, this can’t be true – can it?”
Unfortunately, it was true. In the State of Pennsylvania, unless it can be proven the tree had some type of disease or was not well maintained causing it to fall, the neighbor’s Homeowners Insurance Company is not responsible for paying for the damage.
But all was not bad news. “The good news,” I told them, his “Travelers Homeowners Insurance Company will pay the damage. Unfortunately you will be subject to the policy deductible which in your case is $500.”
“Please keep in mind,” I added, “The information your neighbor provided that he is not liable is based on Homeowners and Renters Insurance Underwriting Rules and regulations, not state law. Your neighbor may still be legally responsible for the damage. If you don’t want to file a claim with your Homeowners Insurance Company; you may be able to file a law suit against the neighbor in small claims court and sue for all the damage or for the return of your deductible. Before proceeding with any small claims court action, contact an attorney or local District Justice Office.”
Bill contacted his attorney. His lawyer suggested he ask the neighbor to pay the deductible. Bill agreed and called the neighbor while he was a work. Bill explained to the neighbor his Travelers Homeowners Insurance Policy would pay the entire cost of the claim less the deductible. Bill asked “Phil; “since it was your tree, would you help us out by paying the deductible”. ”Phil said no”. What a Jerk.
7/8/11 UPDATE: If you think a story like the previous can’t have a happy ending – your wrong. You’re going to love this. We had a pretty bad storm in our area during March. A large tree branch from the another neighbor’s property crushed Bill’s neighbors kids car totalled it. It turned out Bill’s Jerky neighbor removed both Comprehensive & Collision Coverage to say money on his sons 2007 Nissan Maxima. Replacement on the car is near $9000.00. When the neighbor called the other neighbor, he was told to pound sand since he had heard how he treated my client.