Posted on: 17 October 2016
Trees offer many benefits to your clients' homes and businesses, including providing shade and privacy. However, they can also be a source of legal liability for landscapers if care is not taken when working with them. Here are two ways you can be held liable for damage caused by trees and what to do to avoid it.
Failure to Diagnose Sick or Damaged Trees
Trees that are sick, damaged, or dead can become environmental hazards. Branches may fall off and damage houses or other structures, or the trees may be more easily uprooted and thrown about during storms. If your contract with your clients entail caring for the trees on their property, you could be held liable for not recognizing when a tree's health is failing and may need to be treated or removed.
This potential for liability is based on negligence laws that hold people responsible for their actions or failure to act. To prove fault, your client would have to show that:
- You had a duty of care
- You breached that duty
- That breach caused an injury
- The client sustain damages as a result
Caring for the trees on your clients' property may create an expectation that you would inspect the trees for signs of disease or damage and notify the client about this issue. Failure to do this could put you at risk of losing a lawsuit if the tree later causes damage to the property or injures someone.
It's important you clarify with the client what your responsibilities are. If your duties only consist of keeping the trees watered or trimmed and doesn't include diagnosing diseases or other problems, then you need to be upfront about this and include this information in your contract, so clients can't come back and say they weren't aware of your policy.
Property Boundary Issues
Another way you could be held liable for tree-related problems is if your clients experience property boundary issues due to where the trees were planted. Trees placed along the border of the land have the potential to intrude onto neighboring properties as they grow, which could lead to a legal issues for clients.
For instance, if the tree eventually straddles the property line between two homes, it legally becomes the possession of both homeowners. Your client would be restricted from doing anything with the tree without getting his or her neighbor's permission, which can cause issues. If the tree produces fruit of some kind, this co-ownership issue could translate to financial losses, depending on what the owner uses the tree for. This, in turn, may cause the client to sue you for those losses because of how the tree was planted on their property.
When planting trees along the border of a property, it's critical to consult maps that clearly show where the boundary line is and to place trees an adequate distance away so that they don't cross the line when they're fully grown.
These are two examples of legal problems you could encounter in your landscaping business and reasons why it's important to have insurance to cover potential issues. For more information about the type of liability you may run into or how landscaping contractor insurance can protect you, contact an insurance broker.Share