Question: My son swerved to miss a deer, went into a yard and took a chunk of bark out of a homeowner’s tree. What is the law regarding the homeowner being able to file a claim? The kid’s car was a beater, and we junked it hoping to avoid a claim.
Answer: Getting rid of the car doesn’t negate your son’s liability for the damages he caused with his car. You can’t sell or junk a car to avoid a claim against it or the driver.
Your son hit the homeowner’s tree and damaged it and probably tore up some of the homeowner’s lawn. The homeowner did nothing wrong and so has the right to pursue a claim against your son’s car insurance policy, and against him if the limits are exceeded. Some landscaping claims, especially if the tree must now be removed and replaced, are quite costly.
While a deer may be the reason your son swerved, he then lost control, and that is why he ended up driving through the person’s lawn and hitting the tree. It, thus, is your son’s negligence that caused the damage, and so his property damage liability insurance should cover the damages he caused, up to the limits of the policy.
Since the car that was in the accident was junked, it’s safe to assume that you did not have physical damage coverages. If you did, then you could have made a claim for its damages, and it could have been repaired, or actual cash value (ACV) paid out if the insurer found it to be a total loss.
If you did have physical damages coverages on the car, then it would have been collision coverage used for this incident; a tree was hit. If instead your son had hit the deer, it would have been comprehensive coverage.
Your son should contact his car insurance company to notify them of the accident, and resulting damages, so that they can prepare for the property damage claim that is likely to come from the homeowner. Horticulturist specialists will likely determine the extent of the damage and how expense the claim will be.