Insurance agents weigh in on who pays for neighbor's fallen trees

TULSA - A sycamore tree towers tall in a neighborhood near 57th and Peoria.

Two doors down, a mature maple stands tall, too, or at least did, until parts of both trees were blown over, damaging their neighbor's property.

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"Yeah, it was a pretty close call," Aja Jones tells us.

Too close, Aja says, when one of those trees just missed crashing into his 14-month-old son's room while he was in bed.

"It would have been right in his bedroom, it was pretty scary."

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A neighbor's tree damaged Aja's carport instead.

Even though it's not his tree that caused the damage, Aja's agent says his insurance will have to pay to repair the carport and remove most of the tree after he pays his deductible.

"I just think insurance is tricky, you know, they have all these umbrella things you are covered on, things you're not covered on, you just have to figure it out when bad things happen," Aja says.

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John Vaughan's trying to figure his insurance out too.

In his case, though, it's his tree that crashed onto his neighbor's roof so his neigbhor's insurance will have to pay.

As for the part of the tree left on John's property, he says his agent told him, "It doesn't matter how much tree debris you have in the yard, it's your job to get rid of it."

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Generally, insurance experts say if a neighbor's tree is in good condition and a storm blows it onto your home or other building, your insurance will have to pay to remove the tree, and for the damage it caused after you pay your deductible.

If the neighbor's tree was neglected and you complained about it, preferably in writing, before the storm hit then your neighbor may be responsible to pay for the damage.

And here's another important point: If one of your trees falls over on your property and it doesn't hit your house or other covered building insurance won't pay to clean it up.

If you're a storm victim, experts say don't become victimized again by fraudulent contractors.

Jim Camoriano, with State Farm Insurance, has some recommendations:

-- While there are many reputable contractors, unfortunately disasters can bring out some unscrupulous firms.
-- We urge people to not be a victim twice, where first a storm takes your property and second, someone takes your pocketbook.
-- We are talking about one of the largest and most important investments people will make in their lifetime: their home. It’s important to know they are in control when it comes to the rebuilding process.

Top 9 things for customers to consider after receiving storm damage:

1.    Don’t let anyone on your roof until you speak with your insurance agent first.
2.    If you get into a conversation with them, get their name, business address, and phone number. Call the Better Business Bureau (BBB) or Attorney General’s office and mention the contractor and repair discussions. Also, contact BBBs in surrounding states, as these firms travel. Keep in mind they may also disguise themselves by adopting the name of a reputable contractor in your area.
3.    Don’t pay anything up front and don’t rush into signing a contract.
Oklahoma law requires roofing contractors to register with the Oklahoma Constructions Industries Board. Provisions require them to show proof of liability and workers compensation insurance.
4.    Look for an established, licensed roofer and request references.  
5.    Ask to see certificates of insurance to be sure both liability and workers compensation insurance coverage is carried, and are in force during the time the roofing work is being done.
6.    Insist on a detailed, written estimate clearly stating the quantity of materials needed (labor charges; work specifications) which include approximate starting and completion dates; payment procedures and that any necessary building permits are secured. Consider paying in installments, based on how much of the work is done at certain times.
7.    Carefully review and understand any warranty and watch for conditions that would void it.
8.    Use caution (ask questions) before accepting a bid substantially lower than other bids covering the same repair work.
9.  You may also contact your National Roofing Contractors Association for assistance in locating a professional contractor in a specific geographic area at 1-800-USA-ROOF or 1-800-872-7663 or go to www.nrca.net .

Here's information to consider before filing a claim:

-- If it’s safe to do so, make temporary repairs to prevent further damage, such as stopping water leaks. For example, you can cover openings with tarps.
-- Keep your receipts, so you’ll have a record for the claim adjuster.
-- Be patient. We are getting to those who were hit the hardest first, and making our way out from there.
-- There is coverage for spoiled food in your refrigerator and freezer if it’s the result of a power outage caused by the storm. Generally not the unit but the contents.

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