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The situation:
Storm came through and knocked down two trees in my mother's yard. One (tree A) fell onto her fence, one (tree B) fell harmlessly onto her lawn.

Insurance paid for:

  • fence repair
  • removal of tree A

Insurance did not pay for

  • Anything whatsoever to do with tree B

Now I am being told that her insurance carrier is threatening to cancel her policy due to the fact that there is "debris" in the yard from tree B.
Additionally, she told me that the state insurance regulation office (Florida) has told her that this is totally within their right to do so.

This makes no sense to me. Am I insane, or is this a common practice?

Possibly worthy of note: She has had this insurance (had this home) for over five years, and this is the first claim ever on the policy.

  • 9
    Personally, I'd use this as a reason to shop for a different - and perhaps less expensive - insurance carrier. – jamesqf Oct 9 '16 at 17:34
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    Read the contract. If necessary hire a lawyer to read the contract. The answer is almost certainly that they can cancel for this. – keshlam Oct 9 '16 at 21:41
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    Note to self: If in this position, one tree fell. Broke in two. Knocked down fence. – Shane Oct 10 '16 at 1:18
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    OT: Post an ad in the local newspaper: "Free firewood for self-collector." – Thomas Oct 10 '16 at 7:24
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    @Thomas - Free firewood isn't cheap enough in Florida. – Nathan L Oct 10 '16 at 13:57
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The state insurance regulation office (Florida) has told her that this is totally within their right to do so.

Respectfully, mom contacted her state regulatory agency, and received an answer, but you're here to seek an alternate view?

The downed tree is an attractive nuisance. If I were 8 again, I'd love to come play on it, fall off, break my ankle and sue mom. But, the insurance company doesn't need to spell this out, they just want your mom to pay the couple hundred bucks to remove it.

Even in Florida, people sell cordwood. Depending what kind of tree that was, someone might be happy to come harvest it at no cost. They'll sell the firewood. Just a thought.

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    "If I were 8 again, I'd love to come play on it, fall off, break my ankle and sue mom." - Does this really work like that in the US? Trespass onto someone elses property, play on their tree, do something stupid, break your ankle, sue them? – marcelm Oct 10 '16 at 18:05
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    @marcelm You'd be surprised how often this happens.Person breaks into business, gets caught in ventilation shaft, sues business. Person breaks into person's house, falls on knife, requires stitches, sues owner. Person walks in front of Walmart, slips on ice, sues for medical damages. Person buys coffee, spills it on themselves, sues fast food company. There are reasons why we have caution and warning signs everywhere we go. Everyone's afraid of lawsuits. – phyrfox Oct 10 '16 at 18:11
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    @marcelm - I wasn't just using words. "Attractive Nuisance" is a legal term, and the linked article I added to my answer should help make it clear that "I can't make this stuff up." Fact can be stranger than fiction. – JoeTaxpayer Oct 10 '16 at 18:24
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    What a terrible law system. If I shoot myself in the knee, I am responsible for it, not the gun maker. – glglgl Oct 11 '16 at 9:42
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    @glglgl It's not just the US, many countries with a similar law system have similar scenarios. A kid I went to school with broke into a building site, brought petrol with him, set fire to some lumber and managed to spill some of the petrol on himself and got badly burned in the course of his arson. His parents sued the builder and the court sides with the poor little burned darling over the big mean construction company. – Murphy Oct 11 '16 at 13:59
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It depends a bit on the actual policy she has, but yes, they can cancel the policy. Tree B (the debris) now poses a threat to the property and its inhabitants. If you do not remove the debris and another storm comes through or someone gets hurt by it while on the property, the insurance company won't want to pay out to cover it.

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    I don't understand the logic of insisting it be removed but not paying for that. Either there was damage created by it falling (a new hazard) and they should pay for it, or there's no damage and they shouldn't complain about it. Of course no doubt they can say what they want within reason in explicit terms in the policy, but it does seem rather odd. – Ganesh Sittampalam Oct 9 '16 at 15:30
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    @GaneshSittampalam Compare that to a car accident insurance that threatens to cancel your policy because you don't replace your worn-down break linings. – Alexander Oct 9 '16 at 15:40
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    @Alexander but that's routine maintenance, whereas a tree falling is an accident that they cover in general (as shown by tree A). – Ganesh Sittampalam Oct 9 '16 at 15:42
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    Insurance companies can (and do) insist that you maintain your home to a certain standard in order for the home to be insurable. That includes the grounds surrounding the structure that is being insured. Insurance is supposed to minimize risk - both your risk, and their own. So while the falling tree didn't damage an insured structure, it does now increase the risk of a loss. It is your responsibility to minimize risk, not just the insurance company's to pay out losses. – NovaDev Oct 9 '16 at 20:36
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    @GaneshSittampalam: Presumably the tree that fell over and destroyed the fence needs to be removed for the fence to be replaced. So its not so much that they are covering falling trees as that is a byproduct of covering the broken fence. – Chris Oct 10 '16 at 10:08
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My family background is in real estate and law. I have a good amount of experience in dealing with homeowners insurance / insurance companies. This has little to do with policy coverage and more to do with how insurance companies work. The truth of the matter is that the insurance company is looking for a reason to cancel the policy, unfortunately. To them, one claim is too many claims. They love collecting your monthly payment but dislike paying out on claims. One claim in five years doesn't look good when they see your mom as a "high risk" via the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (CLUE), a database, which used by insurance companies to share histories of claims or damage reports on property.

From what I have read, your mom will not be canceled because of the tree but the insurance company is sending a "message" to your mom. If your mother makes a second claim they will 100% cancel her. This isn't just about your mom, if anyone makes 2 claims, they will be canceled.

It is really important to assess the damage and cost of replacing without using your homeowners insurance. When you file a homeowners claim make sure that filing a claim is worth it.

With all that I know and have witnessed, if a storm crushed my deck, I would pay to replace the deck without involving my insurance. It's better to save the claim for something major.

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    Seems to me then, after reading this as a cynic, that homeowners' insurance isn't so much a way to minimize my own risk as it is a way to schlep money from my pocket into someone else's every month. One claim is too many? Those companies shouldn't be in the insurance business then. – Jeff Lambert Oct 10 '16 at 19:03
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    Yes. One claim is too many. Let me put this into a real world example that I have witnessed first hand. This is just one example. – Andrew Oct 10 '16 at 19:57
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    Real world example. About 10 years ago my parents renovated a bathroom. The leak ended up ruining the finish basement/bathroom. They had to have new pipes and a new bathroom installed because the sub floor was rotted from water damage. They filed a claim. New pipes/ bathroom renovated. Then the worst winter ever in the northeast happened ( major ice dam damage everywhere in the state) This cause a couple hundred thousand in damage. My dad knew he'd be canceled but needed to file a claim. They agreed to cover, but he was terminated after 36 years with no property claims for this property. – Andrew Oct 10 '16 at 20:27
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    They might very well have canceled his insurance regardless of the first claim. – stannius Oct 12 '16 at 21:31
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    Then this insurance seems to be quite useless, if the company is just able to cancel it seemingly at whim and the regulatory body isn't going to do much about it. But I guess this is the corporate and very much capitalistic US then. – xji Oct 14 '16 at 20:03
8

Ask the insurance carrier to explain to you, in writing, why they regard the tree as dangerous. Then take that back to the insurance regulation board and complain that they are refusing to cover damage caused by an accident that creates a risk. The insurance regulation board is less about forcing insurers to provide insurance, and more about forcing insurers to pay up after collecting premiums. So make the problem fit what they're most willing to do: force payment on a claim.

I wouldn't worry so much about the insurer canceling the insurance. That happens or it doesn't. Worry about collecting on the claim.

If that doesn't work, pay for the tree removal. Switch insurers. Contact a lawyer to see if anything else can be done. If not, move on with your life.

The advantage of going through the regulators rather than a lawyer is that their help is free. The lawyer will charge someone for helping. And it doesn't sound like this is a big ticket case where a small commission is significant money.

If you do go to a lawyer, consider going to a large firm. A large firm can better support a court case for recovery. Which paradoxically means that they are less likely to have to go to court. It's easier for the insurance company to just pay out. The insurance company can better play chicken with a small law firm or an individual lawyer.

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    I am not the DV, but, respectfully, you are giving advice that might cost $1000 and an equal amount of time in order to force the company to pick up a tab that may very well be minimal, or as I suggest, free. – JoeTaxpayer Oct 9 '16 at 18:29
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    @JoeTaxpayer I would advise against paying the lawyer. The insurance company should pay the lawyer. And if the regulators take it, the government pays them. And, respectfully, the question of whether or not there is a case is best left to a local lawyer who can actually answer a question like, "Is this standard?" Finding someone to take away the tree for firewood is a good idea -- I wonder why the tree removal people didn't think of that when they were there. – Brythan Oct 9 '16 at 23:52
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    I see, no problem. In my experience, asking a lawyer a question will often result in a bill. But, I understand I've misread your answer a bit. – JoeTaxpayer Oct 10 '16 at 13:14
  • @Brythan "I wonder why the tree removal people didn't think of that when they were there" I'm in the UK not the USA, but I've never come across a "tree removal person" who didn't start by quoting 10 times the real cost of the work, and if somebody was dumb enough to accept that price then found some reasons why the price needed to go up to actually finish the job. – alephzero Oct 10 '16 at 19:21
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Insurance coverage varies by state, so only someone familiar with Florida give a specific answer, like the state insurance board. But in general, the insurance is there to compensate for unforeseen and significant damage to the home and other insured property. A fallen tree has not damaged an insured structure so the owner has not suffered a loss to covered property. There should be no payment under the contract.

Another example would be an underground plumbing leak, the insurance will cover damage to the home's foundation but not the actual repair of the pipe. So if the leak has not caused damage there is no covered loss. A closer example would be the repair to the sewage pipe that connects to the city sewer for a break in the yard. A leak in the yard does not immediately damage the home but its continued leaking can eventually and foreseeably cause damage and can become unsanitary to the point the home will be uninhabitable. It is up to the homeowner to do a repair and reasonable to insist that it is done to maintain coverage. The repair would be home maintenance not an insured loss.

Insurance is there to cover the cost of accidental loss to insured property. The insurance is not there to shoulder the burden of home maintenance. That expense comes with home ownership.

Florida is a very high risk state for windstorm damage. It is reasonable for the insurance company to insist that the home be well maintained to mitigate that risk. A downed tree in the yard, essentially a brush pile, a source for wind blown debris and a risk for future damage to the home, to other's property as well being unsightly and an attraction to rodents. It is the financial obligation of the homeowner as well as the neighborly thing to do to remove debris from the yard.

1

100% Yes they can and will cancel a policy for this.

  1. You are required to keep the property in good working condition and repair any and all hazards ASAP. A fallen tree is a hazard that needs to be repaired.

  2. The insurance company may feel that cleanup of tree B was included in the price in tree A. This gets tricky but essentially if they paid for "yard clean up" or "derbies removal", then from their perspective tree B should have been part of that.

  3. They may see it as a faulty claim. You claim fence was broke, you claimed tree A fell. Did you try any claim damages from tree B? Should you have?

Almost certainly, you fall under #1. Basically you made a claim, this means the property is in a dangerous state. They paid "their part" but your property is still dangerous. You need to fix it, or they can refuse to insure you.

Yes this is normal, yes it is (IANAL) legal, and yes they can cancel a claim if not corrected. By the way, tree removal is very cheap. The cost of the removal is probably way less then the cost of fighting this in any way.

0
  • The insurance company doesn't cover fallen trees.
  • The insurance company does cover damage done by fallen trees.
  • The insurance company doesn't cover homes which are not maintained to their specific standards.

None of these are illegal. If you require coverage for fallen trees which cause no damage, then you may need to find an insurance company or rider that will cover that.

Beyond that, though, hopefully you can see how these three explanations of coverage have led you to your situation. Not all damage caused by a storm is covered by an insurance company, and, as you've discovered, some damage not covered can cause you to lose coverage if you do not proactively resolve the problem.

protected by Chris W. Rea Feb 22 at 11:58

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