Tree damage has homeowners checking their insurance policies

  • Article by: JOHN EWOLDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 26, 2013 - 6:26 PM

After last week’s storms, many homeowners are discovering their homeowners’ policies generally don’t cover costs of cleanup, damage.

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Amy Beckham lost many trees in her Maple Grove back yard during Friday night’s storm. Because the trees damaged a fence and a shed, it triggered her coverage.

Photo: JEFF WHEELER • jeff.wheeler@startribune.com,

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With thousands of trees lost in last week’s storm, homeowners are learning more than they wanted to about the nuances of their insurance coverage.

Anne Mazzocco of Robbinsdale learned a painful lesson when her neighbor’s tree fell on her house, cracking the bedroom ceiling and damaging gutters and shingles.

When a tree falls, it doesn’t matter on whose property the tree originated, even if it’s city property, said Mike Kress, a claim specialist at State Farm Insurance. There is no liability in most cases, so each property owner is responsible for the deductible, the tree removal and any damage caused.

That left Mazzocco responsible for the damage that her neighbor’s tree caused. She’s on the hook for a $1,000 deductible, while her insurance will pay $4,500 for a crane to remove the tree from her roof and $1,600 for damage to the electrical mast and meter. (Xcel Energy pays only for the line, she said.)

But Mazzocco’s situation added a variation that might have required her neighbor’s insurance to pay for her damage. The tree was “half dead and rotting,” according to Mazzocco, which in some cases can put the liability back on the tree owner.

But Mazzocco’s insurance company, Country Financial, said she needed some proof that she and the neighbor had had discussions about the diseased tree— an e-mail exchange or dated, detailed notes.

Mazzocco said that she and her neighbor had had conversations after the storm to that effect, but she never documented them. “That’s not a very Minnesotan thing to do,” she said.

Her claim is just one of thousands related to tree damage from the storm. Nearly 4,000 homeowners’ claims from Minnesota have come into State Farm Insurance’s claim center since the weekend, according to the insurance company.

“People can’t know every facet of their policies, so many questions have come in about removal and deductible limits,” Kress said.

Typically, policies kick in only if a downed tree causes property damage. If the tree doesn’t break anything, insurance won’t pay to get it removed.

Amy Beckham has lost multiple trees in her back yard. The Maple Grove resident lost an 80-foot oak that took down four more basswood trees in its wake.

Because the trees damaged a fence and a shed when they fell, it triggered Beckham’s coverage. Her agent told her that she is entitled to as much as $500 for removal in addition to the property damage, although she is still waiting for a final word from the adjuster.

“Just removing the oak tree will be $3,000,” she said. “We may be cutting it up a little at a time to use as firewood.”

What else isn’t covered during a windstorm? Tree replacement. Not the cost of the old tree or the planting and replacement.

But the tree may be covered if it was struck by lightning. As always, check with your agent.

John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633







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