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Insurance and Acts of God

A pair of experts explain how acts of God, or damaging natural events, decide a claim.

tree leaning on house, image
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Photo: MyImages-Micha/Shutterstock
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In most cases, but not all, you'd be covered if a tree fell on your house.

Like an unhappy miracle, an act of God is a damaging natural event outside human control, such as a flood or lightning bolt. Although the phrase itself doesn’t usually appear in insurance policies, its implications can factor into the way an insurer will decide a claim.

If, for example, a tree falls on your house during a storm, an insurer will likely decide in your favor. But if you knew the tree was dying and hadn’t acted, you can kiss your claim good-bye.

“An insurer wouldn’t look at such a situation negatively unless it finds that the homeowner was negligent,” says Pete Moraga, a spokesperson for the Insurance Information Network of California.

Most homeowners insurance policies cover many natural perils that qualify as acts of God, but check your details. Floods and earthquakes, for example, typically are covered only with specific plans. “It’s incumbent upon property owners to look carefully at their policy’s exceptions,” says David Leen, a real estate lawyer in Seattle.

And it can’t hurt to keep your trees trimmed.

This article was first published in May 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.