Storm Damage Liability
After a big storm, my neighbor’s tree fell on my house. Who has to pay for it? Can I sue them in small claims court?
Typically, a homeowner is responsible to file a claim with their own homeowner’s insurance policy when their property has been damaged. Even if it was your neighbor’s tree, it was your home that was damaged. Once you make a claim with your insurance, it will be up to your insurance company to investigate the claim. They will send someone out to assess the damage, etc. Then they will make a coverage decision. It may be that the incident is not covered under your policy because of something unique to your policy (you specifically excluded roof damage, for example). But most often, so long as there isn’t a specific exclusion of that nature, your insurance company will handle the claim. If your insurance investigation reveals that there was some likely fault on the part of your neighbor (the tree was rotten/similar trees in the neighborhood were unaffected/etc.), then your insurance company may contact your neighbor’s insurance company for contribution. But barring that sort of thing, typically, your policy would cover the damage without any need to contact your neighbor’s insurance company. If the tree fell on both properties, then each neighbor should make a claim on their own insurance policy. It is always wise to put in a claim with your insurance company when storm damage occurs – do not wait for a neighbor to file a claim or you may miss your claim deadline.
Separately, it is worth noting that if you and a neighbor ever have an issue of damage/repair where you’ve worked out a payment deal (we’ll split the cost of a new fence, or I’ll pay to take the tree stump out, etc.) then you should always put the terms of the deal in writing and have all parties sign and date the writing. This ensures everyone is on the same page about what the deal was, and will go a long way toward avoiding future spats or tension with your neighbor. The safest approach is to ask an attorney to write up the terms of the agreement for you, to ensure that you are as protected as possible against future disputes or litigation related to the arrangement.