When Storms Topple Trees, Are You Covered for NYC Tree Damage?

Rare October snowstorm trashed Central Park, cars, yards, raising tree damage coverage questions

Some of the damage the October snowstorm left in Central Park. Photo by AFP/Getty Images.

If a snow-covered tree falls in Central Park and crushes your car, are you covered? What if downed trees litter the yard of your Upstate New York second home? Or a curbside oak in Park Slope came through your brownstone’s window?

Last weekend’s freak October snow storm did more tree damage in the Tri-State area than Tropical Storm Irene and raised almost as many insurance questions as trees it felled. In Central Park alone, an estimated 1,000 trees may have fallen, compared with 125 during Irene. Because most trees had not shed their leaves, the added snow weight toppled more than a similar storm might have during what we like to think of as winter.

Trees can be tricky business when it comes to insurance coverage. The general rules:

  • Automobiles: Cars crushed by trees make great photographs, but the car owners are covered for damage only if they carry an automobile insurance policy with comprehensive coverage. If you carry only liability insurance, you are out of luck. (Liability with collision only doesn’t exist.)

Theoretically, if a tree in a public park or right-of-way falls on your car, you could sue the city. But you’d have to prove negligence, which is tough to do.

  • Home damage: A typical homeowners policy will cover the damage trees cause when they fall on the home as well as cleanup and removal of the trees that strike the home. If a tree on your property damages a neighbor’s home, or a neighbor’s tree hits your house, personal liability coverage may apply.

Check your policy disclosures and talk to your insurance representative to make sure you know what is and is not covered. The Insurance Information Institute also has a good summary of insurance coverage for fallen trees.

  • Downed trees: Toppled trees that don’t hit anything but the ground typically aren’t covered. Cleanup costs fall on the property owner. Some insurers will issue broader policies that cover landscape damage up to $1,500.

A worker clears away downed branches in New York City after the freak October snowstorm. From The New York Times.

New York City residents have large. tree-filled yards. Homeowners in Westchester County, Fairfield County, Connecticut, and across the river in New Jersey are blessed with greener lots but more of a mess after a storm like the one that took us all by surprise.

Homeowners are responsible for maintaining trees on their property. They should regularly trim dead or diseased branches. Unfortunately, this recent snow storm claimed many healthy trees, too, because the branches could not handle the extra weight of wet snow.

In more than 50 years of serving New York City and the Tri-State area, we at Gotham Brokerage Co. Inc., have seen lots of trees come down and plenty others take root. We expect we’ll hear from some current clients who’ve not yet traveled to their second homes and have either property damage or a mess to clean up or both.

We’d also be happy to help you find the way through the forest so you know what to expect the next time a storm blows through and takes trees with it — or slams them against your home. Just give us a call.

Jeff Schneider
(212) 406-7300

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