Many people are unaware that the tree care industry is one of the most dangerous professions out there. Tree care employees work at extreme heights (up to 120 feet here in the northeast) while using dangerous tools, such as chain saws. The danger is compounded by working near power lines, busy roadways and other infrastructure obstacles. These working conditions place urban tree work in the same category as logging, which is rated as the second most dangerous job in the USA and has a high risk of serious injury and/or death.
With all these risks in mind, you can see why having a company that’s properly insured should be at the top of your list. This is also why you should make sure that a tree care company has up-to-date industry certifications and licenses. This ensures that employees are properly trained and that they use the latest industry standards to mitigate the risks involved in tree care.
In most cases, consumers tend to lump tree care companies in with landscapers – after all, they both do “tree work,” right? But there’s a big difference – landscapers do not usually work in the high-risk situations listed above and are certainly not insured properly to cover these risks.
Two Types of Tree Care Companies
It’s important to understand how proper tree service will protect the health and safety of your trees, but it’s just as important to know how the tree care company is going to protect you from potential liability.
For this reason I generalize the tree companies into two categories:
- “Tree Guys”
“Tree Guys” will state or advertise that they are “Fully Insured” with liability and workers comp while not truly understanding what coverage is actually required. In most cases when we see “Fully Insured” advertised, it means nothing. There are only a very small number of tree companies in our area that have proper liability and workers compensation insurance.
Arborists work very closely with industry associations, such as the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) and CT Tree Protective Association (CTPA), to stay at the forefront of the tree care industry while meeting or exceeding safety and tree care standards. Arborists are passionate about their industry and delivering a level of care and professionalism that greatly exceeds the “Tree Guy” scenario. Additionally, Arborists commit to a level of training, certifications and licensing that is ongoing and shows a commitment to being an industry steward that best represents consumers and their landscape needs.
About Insurance Policies for Tree Care Work
Insurance policies usually have a working height clause that for landscapers can be a maximum of 8 to 10 feet. So, in some cases, if they perform work in a tree above that height, the insurance policy is null and void.
This means that if a “Tree Guy” with a landscaping policy has an incident while working 40 feet up in tree, there might not be insurance coverage and you will be next in line for coverage.
About Workers Compensation
Workers compensation is legally required in Connecticut for companies with one or more employees (the owner isn’t required to have workers compensation, although it’s always a good idea to have it). It covers injuries that tree care company employees or owners suffer while at work. This is really the only protection you have from the liability of someone being injured while working on your property.
Without workers compensation, tree companies are legally required to take responsibility for work injuries. However, as the property owner you are next in line. If you hire a tree care company that has no workers compensation coverage, you will be required to pay the bill if an employee is injured and the company owner cannot pay. You can sue the company to recover damages, but you have to pay for the injured person’s medical bills, lost wages and costs associated with the injury in the meantime.
So if a contractor states that he has less than 5 employees and is not required to carry workers compensation, be aware that you are liable for coverage in the case of an incident on your property.
There is also the option for a company owner to opt out of workers compensation coverage. This could result in the same scenario above if the owner (or an employee) is injured on your property.
How to Protect Yourself
When requesting tree care quotes there are a few items to look for to ensure that you are covered in the event that something happens while the company is performing work on your property.
Certificate of Insurance
Request a Certificate of Insurance (COI) from the company. This should list their policy number and limits.
- General Liability $1 million each occurrence and $2 million aggregate
- Automobile Liability $1 million each accident
- Umbrella Liability $1 million minimum
- Workers Compensation $500,000 per accident
The contractor should also be able to add you as an additional insured or the certificate holder. The insurance company generally will do this for free. In some cases when doing work on a property line, both property owners should be listed.
Call the listed insurance company to confirm the policy is real and in good standing. Some ‘Tree Guys” have been known to produce fraudulent insurance certificates or use expired insurance certificates..
If a company takes offense to requesting this information. you probably shouldn’t be doing business with them.
Accreditation and Licensing
You can also look to see which companies are TCIA Accredited, which means that they have passed a rigorous industry audit to confirm they meet or exceed best practices for a tree care business. Part of this audit includes insurance requirements.
Search for Accredited tree companies in your area on the TCIA website.
Ask if the company has certified employees. These credentials can be validated at www.isa-arbor.com.
In Connecticut, most tree care work can only be done legally by licensed Arborists. Check the CTPA website to make sure the company is licensed.
References and Reviews
Reputable tree contractors should also have no problem providing references. Call them.