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When a tree falls

After talking with Nancy Bustad, State Farm Claims Adjuster Bill Meyer developed an estimate of the total damage to her property. (Alyson Buschena/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- In the aftermath of last week's storm, cleanup crews aren't the only ones with a heavier work load. Insurance agents have been answering questions and submitting claims as quickly as possible.

"It was actually pretty quiet on Wednesday when everything went down, but for the most part, calls really started to pick up [Monday] and [Tuesday]," Trevor Nickel, owner of Nickel and Associates said.

While every property owners need to contact their own insurance agent for specific questions regarding their policy, Nickel said they have been answering a lot of similar questions, such as "will my policy cover debris removal?"

"Most policies will not provide any debris removal for trees, unless it landed on property that is covered by the policy -- a house or garage -- then there would be some coverage to remove the tree," Nickel said.

If, however, the tree didn't land on anything, it will be the responsibility of the property owner to remove the tree or any tree limbs.

"With the ice and the amount of ice that we had, most of the branches that came down came straight down and didn't tip over at all. In a lot of cases, people's yards looked bad, but the trees didn't land on anything, other than the ground," Nickel said.

Others have called in to ask "If my neighbor's tree fell and damaged my property, who is liable?"

Nickel explained that, unfortunately, the owner of the damaged property would be responsible to cover the damages: "if the tree was standing and there was nothing wrong with the tree. Otherwise, if the tree was already damaged, then it would be a liability," and would be the tree owners responsibility.

Most home owner policies also cover food loss due to extended power outages.

"If food thaws or spoils, a lot of policies will provide $250 for refrigerated foods -- of course, a homeowner can increase that amount," Nickel said.

To keep up with the large number of claims, State Farm Agent Jason Vote said State Farm's Catastrophe Team of five to 10 members will be in the Worthington area for the next couple of weeks to respond to initial claims and do any necessary follow-up work.

"We have a large team here to respond to claims as soon as they come in. We can immediately contact them and schedule a time to look at the property," Vote said.

As conditions have improved for insurance adjusters since last week, State Farm has been able to respond to more claims.

"Early on we had so much ice and snow that it was dangerous for the insurers to do anything. I was recommending they don't put themselves in harm's way," Vote said.

Bob Bristow, owner of The Demuth Agency, said they have been receiving lots of phone calls, but for each phone call the receive, only about 30 percent will turn into submitted claims.

"I have a lot of people call to ask question. Some don't want to submit a claim until they know that they really have damage. Some just have fallen limbs and trees that didn't hit anything," he said.

Most policies don't cover debris removal if there is no property damage. In the policies that do cover debris removal, the policy holder will still be subject to the deductible, "and that ends the discussion," Bristow said, explaining that the average cost of debris removal will be far below the deductible.

In fact, for most claims submitted, property owners will still be subject to the deductible, with two exceptions, Bristow said.

"There are some policies that there is some upfront coverage for food loss," he said. "And there are some companies that if you have loss to your home or auto and/or boat or RV that is all from the same loss, sometimes just one deductible applies."

There is no time limit for reporting claims, but home owners are encouraged to take photos of the damage if they are able.

Nickel did note that there is a time limit in which repairs must be complete.

"For example, if it happens on April 10, repairs need to be done within six months. If that's not possible, they can ask for an extension, but usually they can complete the repairs in that time frame," he said.

With the precipitation forecasted later this week, homeowners with damage to their roof are encouraged to take precaution to prevent further damage.

"First and foremost, if they have a punctured roof, if it's safe, contract or do it yourself; minimize the future damage it can cause," Vote said.

Daily Globe Reporter Alyson Buschena may be reached at 376-7322.

Alyson Buschena
Alyson joined the Daily Globe newsroom staff after spending a year in Latin America. A native of Fulda and graduate of the University of Northwestern, she has a bachelor's degree in English with a dual concentration in Literature and Writing and a minor in Spanish. At the Daily Globe, Alyson covers the crime beat as well as Pipestone and Murray counties, community news and feature stories. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, reading, and cooking. More of Alyson's writing can be found at
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