Act of God or negligence? Answer determines toppled tree insurance claim

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There's an insurance fight in one Deer Park neighborhood after a tree fell on a neighbor's yard, causing thousands in damages (KTRK)

An act of God or possible negligence? That's the debate in one Deer Park neighborhood after a tree fell on a neighbor's yard, causing thousands in damages. So who should be on the hook for the repairs?

It's usually an uphill battle when fighting insurance companies. So when a homeowner's claim was denied after a neighbor's tree fell on her home, she turned to us for help.

Jodi Blair says January 4th was a calm Sunday afternoon.

"It was really pretty that day. The sun was shining. I had laundry out," Blair said.

But that all changed in the blink of an eye, after her neighbor's tree fell on the back of her home.

"It sounded like my patio came crashing down, and the whole house shook," Blair said.

The towering Hackberry tree that prominently stood in her neighbors backyard suddenly toppled onto her property, damaging her fence, roof, and interior walls.

"The estimate I got was a little over $8,000. I submitted that to my neighbor's insurance company," Blair said.

A little over a week later, Blair says she called Southern Vanguard, the insurance company handling the claim and was told ...

"We're going to put this up as an act of God," she said.

Professor Rick McElvaney with the Center for Consumer Law at University of Houston says that's a common response to these types of claims.

"Almost any time someone has a tree issue, the defense is act of God," McElvaney said.

Blair says she received this letter stating the claim was denied because "there was no negligence on the part of our insured."

So what can you do if you're caught in this situation? If an insurance company denies your claim, does your fight end there? Not yet!

Blair hired her own inspector to examine the tree. The results were quite different from what the insurance carrier's inspector found.

"Infested with ants, termites, and root decay," said Gabriel De La Garza with Gabby's Tree Service.

De La Garza says that could put the tree at risk.

"Obviously it was a large tree. It could have been trimmed. It could have been topped. Several options to have lowered it in height to minimize the weight," he said.

Now if the insurance company won't cover the damages, can the neighbor be held financially responsible?

"If they're negligent, they're basically going to be responsible for the damages it causes a person or a property by not maintaining their trees," McElvaney said.

Our calls and emails to Southern Vanguard have not yet been returned. Blair did submit her own inspection report to the insurance company and she tells us they have since reopened their investigation on the claim. We will update you on the story as we learn more.
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financeinsuranceaction 13homeDeer Park
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