Insurance Think Tanks and Mr. Big: Reduction of Risk

Insurance
Somewhere on the penthouse floor of a gigantic insurance Think Tank sat Mr. Big. He had a grand idea. If the insurance risk of failing trees or tree parts could be eliminated, so would the wrongful death and personal injury cases his company and other insurance companies were paying out in claims. Trees falling onto homes and offices were in that mix as well. And don’t forget damages to automobiles, both moving and parked. There is, after all, no such thing as a perfectly safe tree, especially in our urban forests. Out went the edict: “Dear Insured, remove all the branches over your roof or we won’t insure you.” Problem solved. A promotion for Mr. Big to whatever floor is above the penthouse floor. In came the questions to me…
Read More

Tree Codes: Death, Injuries and Unintended Consequences.

Insurance, Legal
Tree codes: death, injuries, and unintended consequences are a fact of life for arborists! I can recall to this day precisely where I was and what I was doing when I first heard the news. Unbelievable as it was. Stunned. Intellectually frozen in my thinking. The government was going to require that a permit be obtained to cut down my own tree. On my own property. And I had to pay for a replacement whether I planted another tree or not. My own property. My own tree. The tree I owned. The tree I may have planted. The tree that may have been dangerous. I needed permission to remove it. And I needed to get out my checkbook to boot. True, developers had been clear-cutting land for years. Thousands of…
Read More

The Bill of Rights: Valuation vs Land Use

Insurance, Legal
The Bill of Rights: Valuation vs Land Use Few of us have read the U.S. Bill of Rights, which is quite understandable. However, the last 12 words of Article 5 have shaped our nation and introduced a niche legal area of the law known as condemnation or eminent domain. “… Nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” We have forgotten that our ancestors were routinely forced out of their homes and businesses by their landlord and our now good friend, England. Routinely. Imagine a knock on your business door.  There are armed soldiers telling you to gather your belongings and get out as they are going to take your property for their use and comfort. No compensation. No appeal. No warning. Get out. Now. The…
Read More

Tree Failures and Wrongful Death Claims

Insurance, Legal
Tree failures and wrongful death and landscape claims typically fall into the category of valuations. A tree or landscape was damaged, and somebody wants to be paid. And there is much to be considered regarding the valuation of trees and landscapes, which goes to a different level if the tree failure caused personal injury or death. Then the ground rules change. Obviously, much more is now at stake for both the insured, the claimant, and of course the person or entity responsible for paying alleged damages. When wrongful death or personal injury claims caused by tree failures come to your desk, there are many considerations to be contemplated, one of which is “Who owns the tree?” Other considerations evolve about whether the tree failure could have been prevented; was the…
Read More

Who’s Cheating Their Insurance Company?

Insurance
Who's cheating their insurance company? There are abuses on both sides of the insurance cheating issue. There are high-profile attorneys with great expertise in detecting fraud. These attorneys regularly post on LinkedIn verdicts that they received from a jury, verdicts that far exceeded the original claim in many instances. There are insurance companies whose attorneys also win big cases against people who fraudulently file an insurance claim. There are indeed legitimate claims to be made on both sides of the cheating issue. But it’s not the big guys, the master planners whose blueprint is to deceive, that cause the egregious overpayment of claims. Nope. It’s the little guy. You know, like your neighbor. They have all sorts of justifications for cheating. It’s not really cheating after all. It’s a partial…
Read More

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors. Trees and Neighbor Disputes.

Insurance, Legal
As the old saying goes, good fences make good neighbors. I’m not an attorney and certainly not qualified to give legal advice. However, after scores of litigated cases where I served as an expert witness, I can offer some significant take-home lessons for anyone involved with a neighbor who is a poor steward of their trees, causing you a nightmare of possible consequences as a result. The first issue regarding trees and neighbors is always reduced to who owns the tree. At the simplest level, with one tree and two neighbors, the land on which the trunk is wholly located is always the owner of the tree. If the trunk stands partially on the land of two or more people, then the tree typically belongs to all property owners in…
Read More

Failed Tree Liability

Insurance, Legal
Is the Whole Always the Sum of its Parts? The “Green Industry” is governed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI A300). The Standards consist of 10 Parts that cover the various categories of work and provide for certain standards in the writing of specifications and performance. This of course affects where liability lies for a failed tree. The question becomes: Are these Standards separate and apart from one another or is there one Standard with 10 Parts? This question is central to the matter at hand. A man standing near a tree dies instantly when a limb fails and kills him. Negligence or an accident? Perhaps an Act of God? Was the  failure covered by insurance or did a preexisting tree condition exempt coverage? There are many instances where…
Read More

The Interview: It’s the Same But Different.

Insurance, Legal
The most published work on LinkedIn may be the topic of the dreaded job interview, followed quickly by how to write a résumé. Thousands of professionals comment on this topic, and LI has some very smart and credentialed masters who know what advice to give to real-life questions. However, there is another type of job interview also requiring a résumé that speaks to keeping the position one already has after the interview ends. If you are successful in getting past the interviewer and the questions, you keep your job. If you don’t, you don’t. It’s a sink-or-swim scenario. In this plot, you already have a job and are trying to keep it. The rules of the road are simple: You must answer every question honestly. If you don’t, you lose…
Read More

Tree and Landscape Settlements: The Man Behind the Green Curtain

Insurance
When a tree falls on a person or property, insurance companies basically want to know three things:  What caused the tree failure?  Was there a defect that was open and obvious prior to the fall?  What is the value of the subject tree and/or landscape? The answer to the first question is typically answered by photographs. Unless the incident has caused serious damage or death, a site visit is not warranted. There cannot be too many photographs of incident trees, however, so please attempt to provide them. Defects in trees where a claim is made typically fall into two categories: Those whose before-situation conditions could have been detected by inspection prior to their failure, and those trees where the before-situation defects were well hidden from view and could not be…
Read More

Permission to Approach the Witness

Insurance, Legal
The direct examination went rather well considering that most people expect the retaining attorney to be a great orator worthy of Cicero accolades when, in fact, they might have little experience or expertise in oral presentations at trial. The exchange between me, as the expert tree witness, and my retaining attorney was not over-rehearsed and was a more natural reflection of the facts. The jury was attentive and had a genuine interest in the value of the trees subject to the dispute. Then came the dreaded cross examination, the other side’s attorney and her opportunity to convince the jury I was a blithering idiot. And the golden ring of all cross examinations, the chance to prove me a liar under oath. Few realize that the number one fear of the…
Read More