The Investigators: Neighbor’s tree crushes woman’s house during Mississippi storm. She doesn’t have insurance. Who’s responsible?

Neighbor’s tree crushes woman’s house during storm. She doesn’t have insurance. Who's responsible?

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A Mississippi woman had to crawl to safety after her home was crushed by one of her neighbor's trees.

It happened during the storms that ripped through parts of the state on Easter Sunday.

Ashley Fitch and her boyfriend were standing in her kitchen that night when straight-line winds, moving 60 miles-per-hour blew through Tate County.

“We heard big lightning and all of a sudden the roof just collapsed on us,” said Fitch. “We crawled out into the dining room and out the front door.”

Fitch says the refrigerator stopped the tree from crushing her and her boyfriend.

“We were close to death. We could’ve died. I think about it every day. It gives me nightmares now,” she said.

Fitch’s mother had purchased the home years ago and it was completely paid off.

However, neither her mom nor Fitch had homeowner’s insurance. Fitch said neither of them could afford it.

Now, she doesn’t have money to fix her home and she believes her neighbor should pay for the damage because the tree was on his property.

However, it doesn’t quite work like that.

“The person who owned the tree could not help that the tree fell so whoever’s land it fell on or house it fell on is responsible for their own property,”said Ben Butler with Farm Bureau Insurance in downtown Senatobia. “If it’s a live, living tree then it’s an Act of God."

Butler says that the exception to that rule is if you express concern prior to the tree falling.

“Write them a letter and do a certified mail where you have it documented," said Butler. “Then, if their tree falls on your home then you might have a claim against their liability insurance.”

With little recourse, Fitch is now in the process of rebuilding on her own.

“I’ve gonna have to fix it myself,” she said. “It’s going to take months but I’m gonna do what I can.”

Once the home is fixed, Fitch says she will look for homeowner’s insurance but the home must be insurable.

“Properties have to be in good condition before we’ll insure them,” said Butler.

Fitch hopes her home is in good condition soon.

“Right now I’m really homeless. I’ve never been like this before.”

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency says that more than 1,4000 homes across the state were damaged by the Easter Storms.

There were 15 tornadoes that day.

Governor Tate Reeves announced that financial help is available for certain counties but Tate County, where Fitch lives, is not one of them.

Businesses and residents of Covington, Jefferson Davis, and Jones counties can now apply for low-interest disaster loans from the SBA, which includes both Physical and Economic Injury Disaster Loans.

Additionally, small businesses and most private non-profit organizations in adjacent counties are eligible to apply only for SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans. The adjacent counties include: Forrest, Jasper, Lamar, Lawrence, Marion, Perry, Simpson, Smith, and Wayne.

Applicants can apply online by visiting the SBA’s website: disasterloanassistance.sba.gov

Total Number of Homes Impacted Per County, according to MEMA:

  • Bolivar - 51
  • Carroll –2
  • Chickasaw – 15
  • Clarke –35
  • Coahoma - 37
  • Covington – 297
  • Grenada – 112
  • Humphreys – 4
  • Jasper – 80
  • Jefferson Davis - 164
  • Jones – 386
  • Lafayette – 12
  • Lawrence – 47
  • Marion - 1
  • Newton – 13
  • Panola - 55
  • Rankin –1
  • Smith – 16
  • Sunflower – 11
  • Tallahatchie - 20
  • Tate – 12
  • Walthall – 23
  • Yalobusha - 11
  • Yazoo – 7

Residents can still self-report damage to county emergency management agencies through MEMA’s self-reporting tool. Those links for each county can be found here.

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