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Understand your coverage before you need to file a claim

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Photo by Pat Sunderland Barbara Garland looks at the limb that crashed down onto her car and a neighbor's fence.

Last Tuesday evening, Howard and Barbara Garland were seated at the dining table in their North Delta home when they heard a loud crash. The wind had torn loose a large limb from a huge cottonwood tree in their yard. The limb crashed down onto Barbara's 2006 Toyota Camry, denting the roof and smashing the windshield. The massive limb extended across the car and onto a chainlink fence belonging to a neighbor.

Barbara contacted her insurance agent and was dismayed to learn her homeowner's policy would not cover the damage. And because her car is older and fully paid for, she carried only liability insurance on the vehicle.

"The claims adjuster wouldn't even come take a look," said Barbara.

Carole Walker, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association, explains, "If your tree falls on your car it would be your car insurance policy that would cover vehicle damage -- you would need to have purchased optional comprehensive coverage. If your tree falls on the neighbor's car, they would file a claim under their own car insurance."

As for the neighbor's fence, Walker believes that damage should be covered by the neighbor's homeowner's insurance -- unless the tree was hazardous and the property owner was negligent in trimming or removing it.

That's not the case for the Garlands. Because the tree is so large and over a hundred years old, they've had an arborist examine it on a regular basis. He was called the night the limb came down, and speculated a borer had probably weakened the limb. A big gust of wind was enough to bring it down onto the Camry, Barbara's only means of transportation.

Walker's final words of advice: "You should do an annual insurance check-up with your insurance professional to review coverages, especially during severe weather season, so you better understand what insurance you have and how it works if you need to file a claim."

For more information, contact your insurance agent or visit the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association website at www.rmiia.org.

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