Tree Care Accidents: When Are Homeowners Liable?

Are homeowners responsible for tree care-related accidents on their property? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t simple. It depends on several factors, including state law, the circumstances of the accident, and the type of insurance coverage the homeowner and contractor each possess.

“Liability is a complicated issue, but even so, there are several steps all homeowners can take to reduce the risk of litigation,” says Tchukki Andersen, BCMA, CTSP* and staff arborist with the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA). “Tree work can be dangerous, even for experienced professionals, so homeowners should always take extra precautions to ensure their assets are protected.” Learn from three common mistakes that homeowners make:

Homeowner Mistake #1: Forgetting to verify contracts and credentials

Not all tree care companies are trustworthy businesses. Before you hire, always ask for current certificates of liability and workers’ compensation insurance. This is a crucial step – if you hire a company without insurance or with inadequate insurance, you may be liable for accidents or injuries, and may have no means for recourse if your property is damaged.

Disreputable tree care companies may not have this documentation. Some may even forge these documents or exaggerate their coverage, so it is always a good idea to contact their insurer directly to verify their claims. Next, insist on a signed contract as to cost, dates when work is to be performed, and exactly what is to be done. Reputable tree care companies will have no issue complying with these requests.

Public opinion is also important. Research potential tree care companies on Yelp or with the Better Business Bureau to see what past customers have to say. This can provide you with insights that are not always evident on paper.

Homeowner Mistake #2: Ignoring obvious hazards

Even if all the necessary paperwork is in order, you may still be liable for injuries if you neglect obvious hazards on your property. A loose step on a porch, for example, may cause issues if a contractor suffers injury because of it while the tree work is being completed.

Routinely inspect your property for such dangers, and make repairs if possible. If you find something temporarily beyond your repair, it is best to warn the contractor of the risks involved.

For extra peace of mind, take a look at your homeowner’s insurance coverage. It is a good idea to check the personal-liability section of your homeowner’s policy to ensure all the necessary coverage is there.

Homeowner Mistake #3: Micro-managing the tree care project

It can be tempting to micro-manage tree care projects on your property; as the owner, you have a significant financial and emotional investment in the project, so it is natural that you want to ensure everything goes according to plan.

From a legal perspective, however, this may be a mistake. Excessively close monitoring of moment-to-moment or day-to-day operations can open you up to personal injury liability if a worker is injured on the job. It is always best to monitor from a distance, and let the professionals perform the job you hired them to do.

Find a professional

A professional arborist can assess your landscape and work with you to determine the best course of action to care for and maintain the trees and shrubs in your landscape. Contact the Tree Care Industry Association, a public and professional resource on trees and arboriculture since 1938. TCIA has more than 2,400 member tree care firms and affiliated companies. All member tree care companies recognize stringent safety and performance standards and are required to carry liability insurance and workers’ compensation insurance, where applicable. TCIA has the nation’s only Accreditation program that helps consumers find tree care companies that have been inspected and accredited based on: adherence to industry standards for quality and safety; maintenance of trained, professional staff; and dedication to ethics and quality in business practices. An easy way to find a tree care service provider in your area is to use the “Find A Tree Care Company” program. You can use this service by calling 800-733-2622 or by doing a ZIP Code search on www. treecaretips.org.

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