Meera Pal, wtop.com
WASHINGTON – If Friday’s big storm damaged your property, there are a few important steps to take when filing an insurance claim and to safely removing trees from your property.
First and foremost, it’s important to contact your insurance company immediately after property damage.
“If you have reasonable [claim] information, get that information to your insurance agent. You don’t want to wait too long,” says Jim Whittle, assistant general and chief claims council with the American Insurance Association.
In the District:
Callers should dial 3-1-1 and be directed to an agency who can take the tree or remove it from public property.
Montgomery County – Call 3-1-1 and the county can direct you. Be aware that a number of municipalities in Montgomery County have different regulations on tree removal. Visit their site to find out which apply to your tree removal.
Prince George’s County – To report a downed tree or limb call 301-499-8520 on weekdays. For after hours emergencies, call 301-499-8600. The county’s website has more information.
Fairfax County – Asks residents to visit their website for more information about tree removal.
Whittle says, “Given the widespread nature of the damage, the kinds of winds we’re talking about, I think it’s fair to say it could be comparable to Hurricane Irene.”
Irene caused $15 billion in damage and killed 49 people across an area that stretched from the Carolinas to Vermont, last summer.
Mature trees across the region snapped during the hurricane-like force winds Friday night, leaving large swaths of damage.
Billy Simons, who owns the D.C.-based Rust Insurance Agency, says it’s critical that homeowners document the damage.
“When you’ve got a tree through your roof, you want to make sure you’re taking pictures,” Rust says. “If you have to get people in there immediately, you want to keep your receipts.”
Homeowners should make a detailed list of all damaged property, taking photos and video.
Rust also says homeowners should read their insurance policy so they understand what is covered and what is not.
The Maryland Insurance Administration recommends homeowners obtain repair estimates from at least two contractors.
Frank Dudek, owner of Arbor Valley Tree Service and former president of the Maryland Arborist Association, cautions homeowners about hiring someone to do tree removal work without checking credentials.
“Make sure that they are licensed,” Dudek says. “In Maryland, they have to have a tree expert license to do tree removal and tree work. They should have insurance to protect the homeowners and the employees. If the employees get hurt and the employer doesn’t have worker’s comp, the homeowner is liable, as well.”
In dealing with a neighbor’s tree that has fallen onto your property, Dudek says once a healthy tree falls onto your property, it is your responsibility to remove it. Whatever is left on the neighbor’s property is their responsibility to clean up.
Things are little more complicated if the tree was not healthy, or if one neighbor had warned another about the potential hazards of the tree.
“If the tree was rotten and they knew, you could have a situation where they would be held responsible for not having taken care of the tree,” Whittle says. “If the tree was healthy, this could be considered an act of God. They wouldn’t be responsible.”
Dudek says, most important, when cleaning up after a storm of this magnitude, which brought down a lot of trees and power lines, “Please treat every single wire you see as a live wire that can electrocute you.”
WTOP’s Dick Uliano contributed to this report. Follow WTOP on Twitter.
(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)