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If your neighbor's tree falls and there is no one there to hear it…..until it crashes through the roof of your garage, crushing your car, who is responsible for paying for the damages?

Homeowners Insurance

Chances are, you are.  I know it seems unfair; it wasn’t your tree and you certainly did nothing to make it fall, but never the less, your homeowners policy will have to pay to repair your house.  Your car insurance will have to pay for your car.  You will have two deductibles!!! 

The only exception is if the tree was dead and you had informed your neighbor of the hazard and you documented the conversation.  Before your neighbor can be responsible for the damage he would have to have been negligent in the way he maintained it.  He is not negligent for a tree that falls unless he knew that there was a risk of it falling and took no action to prevent it. 
This example is one of the most common misconceptions regarding liability on a homeowners policy.  Here are some more tidbits about your homeowners insurance policy that will probably get you to look out your policy and start reading it.  Remember, it is a contract and what it says is what it will do.  Nothing more.

  • Did you know that if the aforementioned tree falls and does not hit anything you will probably have to pay to have it removed yourself.  Most insurance companies don’t cover tree removal unless it hits covered property.  Nationwide and some other companies do provide limited coverage for fallen trees.  Usually a flat limit of $500.
  • Did you know that if you leave your window open on a pleasant Spring day and there is a sudden storm that blows large amounts of rain into your house damaging your walls, carpet, and floors you will not have coverage.  Unless you have a policy with Nationwide. Nationwide is the only company that I have come across that does not exclude coverage for this type of loss.  I have heard that Nationwide is the only company that provides this coverage.
  • Did you know that if you have a basement with a sump pump and there is a power outage that causes the pump to fail you may not have coverage for the impending flood in your basement…Unless you have Nationwide.  Many companies exclude power outages from their sewer and water back up coverage. Other companies exclude any mechanical failure of the pump.  You need to read the fine print.
  • Did you know that personal property in a basement is not covered by flood insurance?  Did you know that water seeping through walls is not covered under any policy at any price?

  • Do you know what "Replacement Cost" for your contents is?  How about "Replacement Cost Plus" for your home?  The terms sound the same but they are different.  Replacement cost for contents is a value based on the actual cash value of item.  For example 400% of ACV.  Replacement Cost Plus for you home is based on the limit that appears in the policy for Dwelling plus a set percentage that will extend coverage beyond that limit under certain circumstances.

  • What is a good limit for "Additional Living Expenses" or "Loss of Use" coverage on your homeowners insurance?  Some companies have limits as low as 10% of the Dwelling limit, other companies limit the time to rebuild to 12 months.  As a consumer you want as much as you can get.  A limit of 100% of the Dwelling limit or "Actual Loss Sustained" with no time limits is what you want.

Having the right insurance at the right time is the trick.  If you buy your policy on line you are taking responsibility for knowing the right coverage and the limit that you need.  If you make a mistake, you have no one to blame but yourself.  The commercial where the guy is on the phone with his doctor getting instructions for where to make the incision for his do it yourself surgery comes to mind. Don't be that guy!  I don't fix my car when it breaks down because I don't know what I am doing.  Most people should not experiment with writing their own insurance policy for the same reason.

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