The Truth About Tree Care Insurance & Homeowner Risk
You know that saying, “if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it really make a sound?” Well, if a tree (or a branch, or any other part of something on your property) falls on a person or any type of structure, believe me, you will be hearing about it for forever – from insurance companies, medical offices, and possibly even lawyers.
There’s actually a really simple solution to avoid that headache - hire a tree care professional with the right types and level of insurance coverage. That’s it. Sounds like an amazingly simple way to protect yourself from a lot of aggravation, doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, some people have learned this lesson the hard way. The allure of a “tree guy” with a chainsaw who can get the job done quickly and cheaply is often hard to resist. And it’s easy to say “yes” to the landscaper you already work with who offers to add “tree trimming” to his normal tasks.
But if the tree care company or person you hire doesn’t have the right knowledge, experience, and, yes, insurance, you’re putting yourself at risk.
Here are some of the things you should know before hiring anyone to do tree work on your property.
Tree Work Is Dangerous
If you do a quick Google search for the most dangerous jobs in the USA, the number one job (by a significant amount) is logging. Any kind of tree work fits under this category, and with good reason. There are many dangerous aspects to working with trees - heights, heavy objects, unpredictable events, dangerous tools, and more are all a part of the job.
Landscapers and “tree guys” are usually more than willing to take on the dangerous tasks that experienced professionals are certified to perform, but they don’t have the same technical training and experience, nor do they carry the same level of insurance.
Types of Insurance Coverage for Tree Care Companies
There are two types of insurance coverage to look at – general liability and workers’ compensation. To be adequately protected, the tree care professional you hire must have both.
General Liability Insurance
Although it’s called “general” liability insurance, it’s extremely specific when it comes to the type of work covered by the insurance policy.
Only hire a company that can show you a valid insurance policy that specifically covers tree work.
Other business types that do “tree work”, such as landscapers, are only insured to a certain height above the ground - maybe 8 or 10 feet. That means if they climb 11 feet or higher to work on your tree (or even if they just climb a ladder to reach a branch) and something happens, their insurance won’t cover it. In that situation, you may be liable for any injuries, damage, medical bills, lost wages, etc.
Workers Compensation Insurance
Here in Virginia, all companies with more than two employees (including both part-time and full-time employees, subcontractors, and the owner) are required by law to carry workers’ compensation.
As with general liability insurance, look for workers compensation insurance that specifically says that it’s for tree care, not just landscaping or similar work.
You may find that a company isn’t covered for tree work although they still say that “we have workers’ compensation insurance for our employees”. Tree work coverage is extremely expensive so some companies doing tree work choose to classify themselves as landscapers instead (or forgo workers’ compensation entirely). This saves them money in the short term and allows them to offer you a lower price on tree work – but it’s really just pushing the risk onto you.
Without workers compensation (or without the right type of coverage), the tree care business owner is legally required to take responsibility for work injuries to him/herself and any crew members. However, as the property owner who hired the company, you are on the hook if an employee is injured and the company owner cannot or will not pay.
Your option at that point is to sue the company to recover damages. But until that’s settled, you’ll have to continue paying for the injured person’s medical bills, lost wages and other costs associated with the injury.
Tree care is a dangerous profession. Make sure the company you hire values their employees enough to provide them with adequate workers’ compensation insurance in the unfortunate event of an accident or injury. Ask to see the policy!
Request a Certificate of Insurance
To ensure that you’re adequately protected, request to get a Certificate of Insurance (COI). The insurance company will send it directly to you so you can be sure that the policy real and hasn’t expired (a photocopy provided by the business owner is a good start, but you should still ask for the “real” COI). Most insurance companies will do this for free, and will also add you to the insurance as an “additional insured”. If the tree work will be done along a property line, both property owners should be listed.
If a company takes offense to your request for this information, you probably shouldn’t be doing business with them.
The dollar value covered by the insurance policy is also important. It should be enough to pay for any costs arising from an accident or injury. Some minimum limits to look for are:
- General Liability: $1 million each occurrence and $2 million aggregate
- Automobile Liability: $1 million each accident
- Umbrella Liability: $1 million
- Workers Compensation: $500,000 per accident
The next time you get a proposal for tree work (and especially one that seems too good to be true!), ask to see policy documents for both general liability and workers’ compensation. The low cost providers generally don’t have both types of insurance and/or have very low policy limits, putting you and your family at risk should an accident happen on your property.
Don’t take the risk! Ask to see our COI before you hire us – we’re happy to have it sent directly to you. You can also download a copy here so you can see our coverage limits.