The age old question of “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, did it make a sound?” always leads to debate. But, one thing almost everyone can agree on is if a tree falls on their house or car, someone’s gotta pay up. With the recent Ontario ice and wind storms literally raising the roof right off some homes and toppling over neighbourhood trees, the damages from these extreme weather conditions beg the question, “who’s gonna pay for this?”
Here’s a look at who’s responsible if a tree (or branch) land on your home or car.
Getting to the root of the problem
Toronto proudly coins itself as "a city within a park”. With nearly 10.2 million trees, the city boasts one of the most expansive canopies in North America. Unfortunately, the city has often been criticized for its slow approach in the maintenance and pruning of its trees, which arborists stress is crucial to their health and stability. Industry standards state that trees should be pruned every five-to-seven years. Yet, despite the nearly $80 million dollar budget allocated for urban forestry maintenance, Toronto tree maintenance and care sits at twice the industry average rate — 15 years.
Not surprisingly, Toronto home and car owners have faced extensive damages from broken and toppled over trees in the wake of recent wind storms blasting through the city.
The key to protecting your home
Many Toronto residents are left wondering whether their home insurance policies will cover damage from trees falling on their property. According to Eric Hayes, a licensed insurance broker at McDougall Insurance, “in most cases, home insurance policies will cover the cost of removing the fallen tree, as well as taking care of any repairs to your house, including additional living expenses such as hotel stays and restaurant meals incurred while your home is being renovated from the damage.”
Additionally, many in Southern Ontario were asking questions like, “what do you do if a tree from public property lands on your house?” Or, “what if the tree was from your neighbour’s yard?” Despite the fact that the City of Toronto bears legal liability for trees on public land, simply filing a claim against the city doesn’t guarantee compensation for damages. An investigation will take place to assess the maintenance history and state of the tree. In fact, the Insurance Bureau of Canada states that neighbourhood residents should notify city officials of rotting or potentially damaged trees, even if those trees are owned by the city. However, the City of Toronto outrightly states that if the damage from a fallen or broken tree is due to a storm, your claim will not be compensated by the City.
In the case of a tree from a neighbour’s yard, according to Hayes, if the tree was perfectly healthy and toppled over during a storm, your own home insurance company is still liable to cover the damage, not your neighbour’s insurance.
“Dude, who’s gonna pay for my car?”
Almost as bad as having a tree topple onto your house is having a tree fall on your parked car. Some Toronto car owners may be surprised to learn that they aren’t guaranteed to have damages to their vehicle covered by the City of Toronto. Just like with home damage, depending on the maintenance history of the particular fallen tree, the owner’s car insurance will be liable to cover costs.
According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, this situation is typical of most cities. “When a person’s car is damaged by something other than a collision, coverage is provided under the comprehensive section of that person’s automobile insurance policy. The fact that the tree was city-owned doesn’t factor into the equation.” Note, your car will not be covered under Liability Insurance alone, it must be a comprehensive car insurance policy. The same principle applies if a tree from your yard lands on a neighbour’s car. The car owner’s insurance would pay for the damage claims. Generally, the owner of the tree is not responsible.
Ultimately, it’s important to be vigilant about not only maintaining the health of the trees on your own yard, but also about reporting any issues you witness with trees on public property, particularly around your house. Not only will this help prevent property damage to your home or car, but will save you from any potential financial losses, particularly following a storm. Lastly, this storm was a perfect reminder for home and car owners to double check with their insurance providers about their coverage, because the last thing you want to worry about when you have a giant tree caving in on your roof is a huge home renovation bill.