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When The Bough Breaks, You May Take The Fall

Your auto policy may not cover storm damage to your car.

If I were my neighbor Brad, I would stay away from the casino. Last year, Brad removed a huge old oak that had stood in his yard for decades. The tree was obviously dying, and Brad wanted to take it down before it fell on something. Several weeks later, the oak on my tree lawn fell over and took out both of the cars in his driveway.

In the aftermath of this week’s storm, a lot of people are finding themselves in the same situation as Brad. Falling branches and uprooted trees have damaged vehicles all over the Greater Cleveland area.

Unfortunately, some of those people are going to be extremely disappointed when they find out that their automobile insurance does not cover the damage to their car, truck or SUV.

They’re going to be especially disappointed if they have been relying on Sheryl Harris, who told her Plain Dealer readers this week that with respect to storm damage, “If your car was damaged, it’s covered by your auto policy.” Sorry, Sheryl, but although some auto policies cover storm-related damage, many don’t.

When most people think of automobile insurance, they think of liability insurance, which covers damage to other people caused by the driver’s negligence. This kind of insurance does not cover damage to your own vehicle, no matter what the cause.

Many people also have “collision” coverage, but as the name implies, this insurance only applies to damage caused by a collision with another vehicle, or with an object (such as that deer that suddenly jumped out in front of your car).

However, collision insurance does not cover damage to the vehicle caused by natural catastrophes such as earthquakes, floods, wind storms or other Acts of God. It also does not cover damage from other causes such as vandalism, theft or fire.

To get coverage for these kinds of losses, you need comprehensive coverage. But comprehensive coverage is not automatically included in your insurance policy. It is an optional coverage, and many low-cost policies do not include it.

Comprehensive insurance covers damage to your vehicle from almost any cause, with few exceptions. For example, most policies exclude damage from an act of war, so one nuclear bomb will still ruin your whole day. Most policies also exclude damage due to terrorist attacks.

Other policies have exceptions for particular events like damage from lightning or from flash floods. If you have comprehensive coverage in you insurance policy, be sure to read the policy carefully to see what the exceptions are. In some policies, these exceptions are listed as “uncovered perils.”

Comprehensive coverage is relatively inexpensive.  It is usually sold with a $100 to $300 deductible; and as with any insurance, the higher the deductible, the lower the premium. I have a $500 deductible, and the premium for the comprehensive coverage on my car is $74 per year. 

Of course, if your car is a real beater, you may not want to spend the extra money to get comprehensive coverage.  But is your vehicle is new or if it’s still worth a fair amount, buying comprehensive may be the only way to go.

If you owe money on your car, comprehensive coverage is a must.  Nobody wants to be stuck paying off a car that was completely demolished by a falling tree.

As a rule of thumb, comprehensive coverage is probably not worth the price if your vehicle is older and worth less than $1,000. If your car is worth more, it depends on what level of risk you are willing to take.

Fortunately for my neighbor, Brad had hedged his bets. One vehicle could be repaired; the other had to be replaced. But it was all covered by insurance. His bet on comprehensive coverage really paid off.

Have a question or a suggestion for a topic?  Email dspirgen@SpirgenLawFirm.com.

Patch posts are general discussions and should not be used as advice on any specific legal matter.  If you need legal advice on a particular situation, please consult an attorney.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

mario ingraffia November 01, 2012 at 02:20 PM
Or as you are aware, your neighbor could have just sued you for the damages you property (the trees) caused to his vehicles.
Bethany Tipton Snyder November 02, 2012 at 01:28 AM
Actually Mario that's not correct. If your tree falls on your neighbor's property (house, car, etc.) it is covered by your neighbor's insurance not yours. Your would only be liable if the tree was dead or dying and you had neglected to cut it down. Otherwise it it is just an "act of God" as they say and covered by property owner - not the tree owner. P.S. I've owned an insurance agency for 7 years. Not making this stuff up. ;)

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