Whose responsibility is a downed tree?

Posted: February 10, 2014

IF A TREE falls in the yard but no one is around to claim it, does it have a keeper?

That's the question the Daily News asked yesterday, following a record number of downed trees in the wake of this week's snow-and-ice storm.

Many in the city were lucky to escape the power outages that affected swaths of the city and badly hit the suburbs - but those with saplings and shrubbery around their homes had a different experience.

"It's tough because we can't control the fact we have so many trees, but it's very dangerous during storms like this," said Noreen Spota, administrative coordinator for the Chestnut Hill Community Association. "All these trees have so many icicles and branches hanging off them, you really need to be aware when you're walking. Be aware of what's overhead."

Pennsylvania Insurance Department press secretary Roseanne Placey said if there's any question as to who's responsible for a fallen tree that may or may not have caused damage, the first place to get answers is with homeowner's insurance.

"It generally doesn't matter whether a fallen tree originated on your property. If it landed on your house, you should file a claim with your insurance company," she said. "If there's no damage, you still might be able to refer to your policy. You may have coverage to clean up the fallen tree."

In some cases, she said, insurance companies work together on subrogation, in which one insurance company recovers from another. Poorly maintained trees in yards are red flags for risk, she said - that's when liability comes into play.

"If the tree hits an insured structure but there's no damage, you likely do not have coverage for tree removal, unless the tree has fallen in such a way that it blocks a passageway into your house," she said. "It's always best to ask your agent or company about your specific policy."

Some policies even cover spoiled food due to power outages, she said.

"Your insurance company knows how to handle these sorts of situations. It's their job."

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