Insurance dispute with neighbor over fallen tree

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 Q. I’m having a dispute with my neighbor. His tree fell on my property and knocked over a fence. He says it’s not his problem. I want his insurance to pay for it and I’m afraid my rates will go up if I report it to my insurance company. What should I do?

A. You’ve got several options here.

The easiest would be to file the claim through your neighbor’s policy, said Kim viscuso, a certified financial planner with Stonegate Wealth Management in Oakland.

She said because it’s their tree, their liability policy should cover it.

“However, if they are unwilling to provide their homeowner’s insurance information, then you could file through your policy, which will more than likely subrogate against your neighbors policy,” she said.

But you’re right in that the problem with filing a claim is it can force an increase in future premiums, or possibly even cause the insurance company to drop you as a client altogether if you make too many claims in a given time period, she said.

Also remember that while you don’t want to file a claim, this is why you have insurance in the first place.

Before you file a claim with your insurance company, review your policy to see if you’re covered for this kind of damage.

It’s possible tree damage to a fence is excluded, said Anthony Vignier, a certified financial planner and attorney with Vignier Investment Group in Kearny.

If it is included, determine your deductible and the cost to repair the damage by getting an estimate.

“If the damage is $1,000 and the deductible is $500 or $1,000, it may not be worth submitting a claim to your insurance company at all,” Vignier said. “However, if the repair cost is high, submitting the claim may be your best option.”

If you decide not to submit the matter to the insurance company, Vignier said another other option may be to pursue legal action, but this, of course offers, no guarantee that you will paid for your damages.

“Litigation can be expensive and time consuming and in most cases is never a sure thing,” he said. “Unless you can show that the neighbor had notice, preferably in writing, regarding a problem with the tree, a court can decide that the damage was an `act of God,’ in which case liability will not imposed upon your neighbor.”

Given that this is your neighbor and you probably want to have a decent relationship with this person, Viscuso said the neighbor may be open to a compromise where you split the cost so no one’s premiums or coverage is at risk.

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NJMoneyHelp.com presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.