Insurance coverage for tree work done on your property probably isn’t the first thing you think about when hiring someone to prune, remove, treat, or maintain your trees. But it’s arguably the most important consideration.
We’re not saying that you shouldn’t check into a tree care company’s experience, references and credentials – just that you should always also check on their insurance coverage.
Many people opt for the provider who can get the job done the quickest and cheapest. Often, that’s a “tree guy” with a pickup trunk and a chainsaw, or a landscaper who also offers “tree trimming” services.
But what happens if a tree or branch falls on a person or structure while (or even after) the work is being done? Of if someone falls or gets cut?
The outcome depends on the types and level of insurance coverage held by the person or company doing the work.
Here’s what you need to know about tree service insurance before hiring anyone to do tree work on your property.
Tree Work Is Dangerous
It’s not always obvious just how dangerous tree work can be, particularly for those without the training, equipment and experience to do it properly and safely. Tree work is done at heights and is affected by heavy objects, unpredictable events, dangerous tools, and more. (One way to increase the safety factor is to hire a Certified Arborist.)
While landscapers and “tree guys” often take on the dangerous tasks that Certified Arborists are trained to perform, they don’t have the same technical training and experience, nor do they carry the same level of insurance.
That puts you even more at risk – there’s a greater chance of something going wrong AND higher odds of you being held liable for any injuries or damages.
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 (preferably a Certified Arborist) 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.
If someone is performing tree work, their insurance policy must specifically cover tree work. If not, any damages or injuries arising from tree work done on your property will not be covered.
Insurance policies for landscapers are different – they only provide coverage for work done on the ground and up to about 8 or 10 feet above that. If a person climbs up over 10 feet to work on your tree (or even if they just climb a ladder to reach a branch) and something happens, their insurance will not cover it. In that situation, you may be liable for any injuries, damage, medical bills, lost wages, etc.
Workers Compensation Insurance
Here in North Carolina, all companies with three or more employees are required by law to carry workers’ compensation, or they must qualify as self-insured employers for purposes of paying workers’ compensation benefits to their employees. (There are some exceptions to this – you can find details here.)
As with general liability insurance, workers compensation insurance must specifically cover tree work (not just landscaping or similar work) in order to be valid.
Although many companies claim to be fully covered by workers’ compensation insurance, they may not always be covered for tree work.
Tree work coverage is extremely expensive (which is not surprising, given the dangerous nature of the work). To cut costs, some companies doing tree work choose to classify themselves as landscapers instead (or forgo workers’ compensation entirely). They can then pass the cost savings on to you in the form of a lower price for tree work. But don’t be fooled – what they’ve really done is pass the risk on to you!
Without the right type of workers compensation coverage, the business owner is legally required to pay for work injuries to him/herself and any crew members. And if they can’t or won’t? As the property owner who hired the company, you are on the hook.
While you can sue the company to recover damages, you’ll still have to pay for the injured person’s medical bills, lost wages and other costs associated with the injury until the case is settled.
The coverage limits on the insurance policy are also important. The limits should be high 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
Tree care is inherently dangerous. Make sure the company or arborist you hire is well protected with tree care-specific workers’ compensation coverage.
Request a Certificate of Insurance
To ensure that you’re adequately protected, always ask for the insurance company to send you a Certificate of Insurance (COI) so you can be sure that the policy is still in effect and covers tree work. A photocopy provided by the business owner is a good start, but you should still ask for the “real” COI. There’s usually no charge for this.
If a company takes offense to your request for the insurance certificate, you may want to rethink whether you should do business with them.
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.