When Trees Strike Back: What to Do and Who Is Responsible

Trees are beautiful. They provide greenery to city landscapes, shade our yards and homes, and do that cool thing with oxygen and carbon dioxide. You know, keeping our planet alive.

But there is an indignant streak to trees. They can look pretty one second and, well, destroy your house the next, or fall into a road and cause an accident.

It’s okay if it happens to the other guy. But what if it happens to you, your house, or your car?

Welcome to the minefield of difficult to understand insurance laws, provider procedures, and crazy driving laws.

Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.

“Thar she blows!” said no one as a tree toppled onto their house.

If a tree falls onto your property, damaging your home, you might breathe a sigh of relief. After all, you have homeowners insurance. But hold that sigh. Getting compensated might not be as easy as you think.

Trees are governed by a unique branch of law: tree law (pun intended). As Atlas Obscura notes, tree law is something of a gnarly, twisted set of laws that deal with strange circumstances and obscure instances.

They may not be the oldest laws in the world, but they are some of the more difficult to handle.

Tree Laws are Complicated

Tree laws are considered case laws, meaning they’re based on the outcomes of previous cases. They vary widely from state to state, but there are some commonalities.

One of these laws is that the owner of a tree is found where the trunk of the tree emerges from the ground.

This impacts your destroyed house in a few ways.

First, if the trunk was on your property, the city’s likely not going to reimburse you for the damages. However, you may have a case if you called the city to have the tree removed due to safety reasons and they never did.

Second, you’ll have to file an insurance claim with your provider. As the Insurance Information Institute notes:

“If a tree hits your home or other insured structure, such as a detached garage, your standard homeowners insurance policy covers the damage to the structure, as well as any damage to the contents.”

Insurance Information Institute

You should be covered. This is especially true if the fallen tree was due to a “perils” issue, like high winds or a storm.

If you get an award, how much will it be? Without knowing a specific situation, we can only speak to the average award, which is $4,110 according to Consumer Reports.

But not so fast.

Allstate writes that not all claims might be approved. The reason? If the damage was caused by negligence or lack of maintenance issue. If you knew the roots were bad and hadn’t tried to get the tree cut down, then you might not be approved.

When the Clash Between Neighbors Comes Down to a Loud Crash

Now, if it’s your neighbor’s tree, then you’re in luck.

Your standard homeowners policy should cover all tree damage, even if the tree is your neighbor’s. You may even get your deductible back, as your insurance company will go to your neighbor and their insurance company and get them to pay for damages.

However, the situation might be different if you want to sue your neighbor yourself.

See, we know that tree law is a bit of a gnarly, twisting set of roots. Delving into them is a bit like examining all the quirks surrounding the history of lawns.

Are there any specific laws that govern neighbor on neighbor tree crime?

Let’s take a look.

Statutory Tree Laws

Georgia has a Fallen Tree Responsibility Law which states that if you see a decaying or dangerous tree on your property, you must remove it. If it falls on another person or their property, you will be held liable. If that tree wasn’t decaying or dangerous? You’re free and clear according to Attorney R. Michael Coker.

Max Burbach, of Koley Jessen, writes the same thing about Iowa and Nebraska law. Unless the owner had “actual or constructive notice” that the tree was decaying and dangerous, they cannot be held liable for property damage.

Triply true for  Virginia, and New York.

“Knowing of a dangerous tree on your property and not doing anything about it is grounds for liability.”

On a larger scale, you have to prove this in liability court if you want to sue for damages.

What You Should Do When an Instance Occurs?

The process for filing a homeowners claim is different and more complicated than other pieces of property like cars.

All the usual parts apply:

  1. Get a record of what happened
  2. Talk to any witnesses
  3. Take pictures of the damage

An additional step you might want to take when dealing with homeowners claims is to talk to a contractor to come in and assess the damage. They can provide an estimate which you can give the insurance company.

If the award comes back less than you want, you can call in other contractors to assess the damage and provide higher estimates.

Final Assessment

Trees hitting houses are nightmarish situations. There are insurance regulations, national laws, and state laws. There are tree lawyers, arboreal arbitrations, and negligence to prove.

It is little wonder that some people consider this a complicated and complex area of law. In the end, always know your own insurance plan, so there are no surprises.

Except for the tree. It’s such a rare occurrence, you wood not believe it.

Chris Tepedino is an insurance writer at InsuranceProviders.com. He likes making puns, financial automation, and free margaritas.

What Is Legally Safe Drinking Water?

I happened upon an article about North Carolina residents who were being told not to wash their clothes in the city’s water.

It was reported that the water in a North Carolina town was- safe to drink, but clothes should not be washed in it.

In the article, I caught a strange phrase saying that: the water was “legally safe” to drink.

I just had to know, what makes water legally safe to drink?

What conditions would make water not legally safe to drink?

Let’s find out!

The Safe Water Drinking Act

Legally safe drinking water, in America, started with the Safe Water Drinking Act in 1974.

The Safe Water Drinking Act was established to set a standard on the quality of water. The laws under the Safe Water Drinking Act (SWDA) were designed to focus on regulations which covered water that would be used for drinking.

The standards set forth factors that would define what water is legally safe to drink. It is more focused than the Clean Water Act, which was designed to keep all waters clean, and limit pollution in all waterways.

Brief History of the Safe Water Drinking Act

The originial SWDA, which was started in 1974, primarily focused on water treatment as a means to make drinking water safe.

In 1996, amendments were passed which expanded the original SWDA and protected drinking water from “source to tap”. It introduced methods for protecting water sources from pollution.

The 1996 Amendment:

  • Required community water systems to prepare annual reports.
  • Required that the EPA: conduct cost-benefit for all future standards set for drinking water.
  • Issued revolving funds for states to: upgrade drinking water infrastructure.
  • Strengthened protections against microbial contaminants
  • Required water system operators to become certified
  • Expanded consumer awareness of safe drinking water and water treatment operations
  • Assessed drinking water sources for contamination and threats to contamination

It’s true, most of the regulations regarding what is considered legally safe drinking water come from the 1996 amendments to the SWDA, and the standards haven’t changed much since that day.

However, new treatment standards for contamination are regularly being created.

What Water Does the SWDA Regulate?

The legally safe drinking water standard set forth in the SWDA regulates all drinking water facilities, and wells, that supply 25 or more individuals with drinking water.

It divides water facilities into three different categories and regulates each differently.

The three categories of drinking water facility are:

  • Community Water Systems
  • Non-Community Water Systems
    • Non-Transient Non-Community Water Systems
    • Transient Non-Community Water Systems

Of the three major types of drinking water systems, we will just focus on one. For the purposes of this article, we will be focusing on the “legally safe” drinking water standards set forth for: Community Water Systems.

Community Water Systems

A community water system, as set forth by the EPA, is a public water system which serves the same people year round.

These include the water systems you would find in the following:

  • Homes
  • Apartment Buildings
  • Condominiums
  • Cities
  • Small Towns
  • Mobile Home Parks

All of the water systems which supply legally safe drinking water to the above communities are governed by the same EPA standards.

How Drinking Water Standards are set:

Drinking water standards are set through a three step process

Step 1: The EPA identifies contaminants which may adversely affect public health. Then it studies the contaminant to see if it should regulate.

Step 2: The EPA determines the maximum level of the contaminant that can be allowed in the drinking water for it to remain legally safe.

Step 3: The EPA specifies the level of contaminant allowed, and sets a standard for all drinking water facilities to follow.

What is Legally Safe Drinking Water?

Now we have an overview of who sets the standards for legally safe drinking water, as well as how those standards are regulated and set.

We can begin to look into what actually makes water legally safe to drink.

It’s a lot of information, so I can’t cover it all here. There are links to all of the sources below, and I encourage you to look into it further. But here is the gist of what defines legally safe drinking water.

6 Types of Regulated Drinking Water Contaminants

There are 6 types of contaminants which the EPA regulates in drinking water. These are:

  • Microorganisms
  • Disinfectants
  • Disinfection Byproducts
  • Inorganic Chemicals
  • Organic Chemicals
  • Radionuclides

Look, as you can imagine, there is no shortage of these contaminants and the acceptable levels of them. I highly recommend you download the PDF made by the EPA linked below.

National Primary Drinking Water Regulations Complete Table (PDF)

It is too much information for one article, but it is definitely worth a look.

Here’s the deal, though it won’t all be covered here, I caught a few interesting facts in the EPA’s own writing that I wanted to touch on for a moment.

Fluoride in the drinking water

In my opinion, and the opinion of many people, there should not be fluoride in the drinking water.

Yet, almost all drinking water is treated with some level of fluoride!

Though many argue it is safe, the EPA limits its presence in water to 4mg/L, and even lists it as toxic in its own paper chart. So, why is it being added to the water?

I’m not going to get intoit right now, but it is an interesting topic onto itself. And, it is probably something that should not be being added to legally safe drinking water.

Glyphosate In the Drinking Water

Another odd note that I caught is the acceptable level of glyphosate in the drinking water. It wasn’t so much interesting to me because it was on the list, it was that the EPA labels the potential health hazards, saying it causes: “kidney problems; reproductive difficulties“.

Now, where did they get that information from?

Despite many people searching for Roundup exposure lawyers, Glyphosate is still touted as being totally safe. But, according to the EPA in standards set in 2009, glyphosate is more toxic than fluoride; only permitting 7mg/L to be present in drinking water.

One final point, Atrazine, another herbicide said to be completely safe, is listed here too. Saying that Atrazine causes” cardiovascular system and reproductive problems”

I really want to know where they are getting this information from and why it is so hard for the public to find.

What’s the Bottom Line on Legally Safe Drinking Water?

There are hundreds of potential contaminants in drinking water. It is a big task to limit, and determine, just how much of a contaminant should be allowed. This is just an overlay of the laws which determine if water is “legally safe” to drink.

All in all, apart from the adding of fluoride to drinking water, the EPA does a pretty good job regulating drinking water. From the EPA to the regulations of the USDA, it is not perfect, but it’s the government. What did you expect?

Did you catch anything odd in the EPA’s standards you wanted to point out?

Share it with us in the comments!

More Resources on Safe Drinking Water:

Drinking Water Contaminants – Standards and Regulations

Safe Water Drinking Act

Understanding the Safe Drinking Water Act

Drinking Water Laws and New Rules

Further Reading on Healing Law

History of the Letter J

The History of Driving Laws 1901-1960

Driving laws are now a huge part of keeping the roads safe. In the twenty-first century, there are laws and rules for every move we make behind the wheel. After all, car accidents top the death charts year after year. (See the top 10 worst driving states in America.)

From “no right turn on red” signs to speed limit signs and everything in between; there is a law for just about everything you can do in a vehicle. Check out sites like this one for more details on federal and state laws you may not be aware of.

I know I’m not the only one that has thought, “Who invented this law? It makes no sense.” If you’re with me, this article will show some of the oldest laws of the road and the history of where traffic laws were made and when they first became a part of our lives.

Sit back, keep your eyes on the road, and drive through the history of traffic laws. 

In the Beginning…

The old German engineer, Karl Benz, developed the first motor vehicles for the world in 1886. By doing so, he ushered in a change more drastic than the world has ever seen. Once automobiles were made and owned by not only the wealthiest of people but by many others, roads and traffic began to become an issue. 

To respond, in 1901, the state of Connecticut created the first statewide traffic laws. However, the laws only regulated vehicle speeds. The limits were 12 MPH on city streets and 15 MPH on country roads. (Quite primitive compared to our 75 MPH interstates). There were no other laws put into place. 

Before 1930, there were thousands of cars on the road creating what would be one of the most dangerous times America had ever seen. According to the Detroit News, the early traffic years of the twentieth-century were lawless. It was a bloody mess that resulted in thousands of deaths just within the city limits. 

Though there were now hundreds of thousands of cars flooding the streets of America, there were absolutely no street signs, street lights, road laws, traffic signals, brake lights, drunk driving laws, the list goes on. The streets were complete chaos. 

Traffic Laws

In 1930, the three-way traffic light was introduced across the entire United States. As a matter of fact, the traffic light has hardly changed in the eighty-plus years it has existed. In 1930 it consisted of the same “green means go, yellow means slow, and red means stop,” that it contains today. 

One of the biggest safety features and concerns of today’s vehicles is a seat-belt. You may be shocked to learn that the seat-belt was not developed until 1950! The 1950 Nash Airflyte was the first American made vehicle to contain safety-belts. Not even a year later, air-bags were also put into place, making what resembled the cars of the twenty-first century. 

Perhaps the most important moment in traffic law history, the Department of Transportation was born in 1966. Their mission was to “Serve the United States by ensuring a fast, safe, efficient, accessible and convenient transportation system that meets our vital national interests and enhances the quality of life of the American people, today and into the future.” 

This motto still rings true and is the reason our roads are safer than they have ever been. In a mere 30 years, the safety of roadways and interstates changed drastically thanks to traffic laws being implemented. 

History of Drunk Driving Laws

Though many safety hazards have been avoided since the implementation of thousands of road laws, drunk driving is still one of the main concerns for the Department of Transportation and the rest of the United States. According to the DOT, there was an alcohol-impaired traffic fatality every 48 minutes in 2017. 

In 1910, New York developed the first laws against driving after drinking. The punishment was a $1,000 fine and jail time. This began a revolution of trying to solve the problem that still persists today. 

In 1936, Robert Borkenstein invented what he called the “drunkometer”. Borkenstein’s invention was a balloon looking device that determined if a driver was drunk or not. The device needed to be more precise, so in 1953 Borkenstein created the “breathalyzer” that we know today. It began with a .15 BAC being the legal limit, but in 1960 was determined to be too high and was brought to the .08 BAC level the U.S. uses today. 

Drunk driving is still an issue, but laws will continue to get more and more strict. As of recently, there is now a “buzzed” driving limit of .05 BAC. With this law in effect, you can still be ticketed heavily even after drinking what may seem like a small amount of alcohol. 

History of Traffic Laws in Conclusion

Thanks to the traffic and driving laws that have been implemented since 1901, the road is now safer than ever. Since Karl Benz brought us the motor vehicle in 1886, the roads have changed dramatically. 

The DOT now keeps laws and rules up to date and will continue to do so in the future. The history of driving laws is a long one, but it is an important one in preserving the lives of thousands of people. 

Author Bio: Ethan Lichtenberg is a writer for carinsurancecomparison.com. He enjoys Edgar Allan Poe and sneaking off to the beach every chance he gets.

Home Insurance in the Aftermath of California Wildfires

Skyrocketing Costs and Dodged Payouts

Some of the worst wildfires on record have occurred in the last decade, especially in California. The Mendocino Complex Fire was the biggest in state history, burning 459,123 acres according to the Insurance Information Institute.

The Camp fire killed 88 people, with damages totaling between $1 billion and $1.5 billion in dollars. As the continued effects of climate change increase the risk of catastrophic fires, homeowners and insurers are scrambling to keep with damages past, current, and impending.

For many insurance companies, that means pulling out of the riskiest areas. This leaves homeowners (some of whom have been customers for decades) with none of the usual types of home insurance other than pricey, low-coverage state programs like the California FAIR Plan. 

In mid-August, California’s Department of Insurance issued a report showing the increase. From 2017 to 2018, homeowners living in the ZIP codes most affected by wildfires saw a 10% increase in the chance of being dropped by their insurance companies. 

Whether that pullback is temporary or permanent depends on what the state does next, Rex Frazier, president of the Personal Insurance Federation of California, told the New York Times.

California wild fires

A Dangerous Feedback Loop for Homeowners

With these increasing rates of dropped policies, alongside a drastic rise in premium costs and many homeowners facing policies on non-renewal, a crisis is impending.

Many homeowners fear a catastrophic domino effect. Inability to find insurance makes selling your house far more difficult. This is because it’s impossible for potential buyers to get a mortgage without homeowners insurance. This all culminates in increased property taxes and difficulty refinancing properties, causing financial anxiety across Northern California.

As Ricardo Lara, California’s insurance commissioner, told Christopher Flavelle in the New York Times, “This is really creating chaos.”

Homeowners feel they are being held hostage, legally obligated to obtain insurance but denied reasonable options. Rates are increasing sporadically across California, from hundreds to thousands of dollars per year according to some residents. In some cases, the rate increases have been upwards of $60,000 per year. 

And as wildfires are not predicted to decrease anytime soon, future damage and higher premiums can only be expected to rise.

Many homeowners have been left wondering how this is legal. Nancy Kincaid, a spokeswoman with the California Department of Insurance, reports that insurance companies are required to submit a rate filing documenting losses experienced and expected payout. But with so much record-breaking damage, these cost increases are within most legal standards.

How California Insurance Law Comes into Play

California has more laws to protect insurance policyholders than any other state in the country. They also tend to have some of the most forward thinking policies from environmentalism to bail reform. However, a great deal of this insurer backout is legal, even with California’s “good faith” insurance laws on the books. 

As companies release their public statements, they often downplay the full scale of policy changes. 

A spokesman for CSAA Insurance Group said in an email, “After careful review of our exposure in Northern California, we are non-renewing only a very small percentage of insurance policies with the highest risk.” 

Farmers Insurance said in another email correspondence that, “We have begun an initiative to reduce our wildfire exposure in the state. Customers who experienced a loss in the recent Camp, Woolsey and Hill fires will not be impacted by this initiative.”

They fail to mention the state law prohibiting insurers from dropping customers who suffered a total loss caused by a declared disaster for a set time.

If a customer suffered losses before 2019, their provider must offer to renew the policy at least once. For losses in 2019 and beyond, insurers must offer to renew customers at least twice or for 24 months, whichever is greater.

Beginning this year, the state introduced another new law to protect the homeowners living in or near a disaster area who suffered a loss. The legislation prevents insurers from non-renewing any residential policy in a ZIP code within or adjacent to the fire perimeter. This stays in effect for one year after a disaster is declared.

Looking Forward When the Soot Settles

With so much in flux, non-profits, consumer advocates and government organizations are all looking for solutions to this growing issue for California homeowners and insurance providers.

Consumer Watchdog sent the California Insurance Commissioner an open letter on August 27th, asking the commissioner to put an end to what they describe as “excessive rate hikes” for homeowners who “do everything right” so they don’t “lose their insurance altogether.”

The letter also lists several actionable steps Mr. Lara and the state insurance commission could take. One of them suggests a more transparent model of how insurance companies prove rate hikes are approved. 

Mr. Court asks that “black box” risk models based on algorithms be made available to the public and proven in line with Proposition 103, which requires projections to be justified before changing prices. 

It also requests Mr. Lara require guaranteed coverage for homeowners who invest in fireproofing their homes, along with offering further discounts for these practices.

Mr. Lara has been criticized in the past for accepting campaign donations from the insurance industry, and as Mr. Court told the New York Times, he hopes the commissioner will adopt a tougher stance toward insurance companies.

“Things will get worse unless the insurance commissioner cracks down,” he said.

Mr. Court also commended the commissioner on steps to boost transparency about non-renewals and pushing the creation of a statewide standard for home-hardening. Home-hardening makes a house less vulnerable to fire damage. The commissioner also forced insurers to renew or write coverage for homeowners or communities that meet that standard of home-hardening.

Homeowners, Mr. Lara, and other experts agree that not building in places where homes are likely to burn in the first place should be part of the equation. 

For now, Mr. Court and other officials point to the state-backed California FAIR Plan program, which provides a safety net for homeowners dropped or rejected by private insurers. However, the FAIR plan is usually more expensive and offers less comprehensive coverage.

What’s more, with so many homeowners flocking to FAIR, prices are rising. As of April, The Fair Plan sold 33,898 policies in brush/wildland areas in 2017, a 25% increase from the prior year. 

Tammy Schwartz, vice president for underwriting and operations, reported that in some counties at very high risk of wildfires, they’re running 300% ahead for 2018. 

On April 1st, The Fair Plan raised its premiums by 20% on average. However, homeowners in the lowest wildfire risk zones will receive a 10-30% rate cut. If you are in the highest risk areas, increases may be as high as 69%.

In the months and years ahead, California insurers and homeowners face a great deal of uncertainty. Lower-income families in high wildfire risk zones are especially at risk, as insurance may be (or already is) too expensive to purchase. 

All the while, development continues throughout Northern California. 

Have something to add? Comment below. If you’d like to read more about legal news, legal advice, or the history of laws, be sure to check out our archives. If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact us here.

Author Bio: Kalev Rudolph is a writer, researcher, and editor for ExpertInsuranceReviews.com. Kalev’s work focuses on auto and home insurance, travel, and lifestyle.