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Insurance Think Tanks and Mr. Big: Reduction of Risk

risk of failing treesSomewhere 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 from the commercially insured and from cities that faced this new edict. What should we do? If we don’t remove the overhanging limbs, we won’t get insurance. Indeed, what to do.

Over the decades I have had the extreme pleasure and privilege of working for numerous insurance companies on $20 million claims and more to less than $1,000. In depositions and in courts, I’ve also worked across from insurance companies in numerous cases. It has been quite an experience.

The one thing I’ve learned is that the reduction of risk or preferably the elimination of risk is the goal. A forgone conclusion certainly: Eliminate the risk and eliminate the loss.

Well, it seems that Mr. Big overlooked a few pesky items in his claim to fame among his collegiality. Small oversights to be sure … like the American National Standards Institute (ANSI A300). Two of these 10 Standards are the Pruning Standards and Risk Assessment. And, of course, the Dixie Darling of all injury attorneys: due diligence as it relates to duty. Attorneys turn to the ANSI Standards to demonstrate duty and negligence in deposition and at trial.

In almost  every situation, removing large branches in a willy-nilly manner causes greater danger to the insured risk and the insured target. There is a long list of negative consequences, including loss of counterweight balance, when some large limbs are removed on only one side of a tree. It seems that during their development, trees evolve by creating branches to better enable them to grow big – really big without fear of weight imbalances occurring and subsequent failures. Removing too much wood in the form of branches or limbs is detrimental to the health of the tree as well. It takes an experienced arborist to determine the ability of a tree to withstand negative outcomes of significant pruning as it relates to the tree species, age, environment, and other pertinent factors.

So, perhaps it’s back to the drawing board for Mr. Big as it relates to his elimination of tree limbs as a Get Out of Jail card regarding risk. Options to total removal of limbs overhanging the risk may include a tree risk assessment conducted by a credentialed arborist trained to identify risk and mitigate or eliminate it. A written report of findings might then be submitted to the insurance company for their further consideration. The report would, at a minimum, provide an opportunity for science to become part of the decision-making process of risk management by the insurance provider.

Arboriculture can include a study of risk reduction based on research and science. And that study would lead a reasonable insurance policy to be issued based upon science and research regarding tree limb failures. The arborist’s opinion can then lead to terms and conditions of insuring the risk. Perhaps it is time to remove the entire tree. Perhaps remove just some of the limbs. Perhaps nothing should be removed.

There is no such thing as a safe tree. The consequences of failure must be weighed against other factors that provide benefits to us all. It is these consequences that Mr. Big must consider when issuing an insurance policy that carte blanche removes any limbs overhanging an insured risk. Otherwise, he may wish to discover just where the fire escape is located that will take him from the penthouse down to the ground floor where he just might be issued a Notice to Appear for his deposition.

Qualified arborists in your area may be found on the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) or the American Society of Consulting Arborists (ASCA) websites.

If you should have questions regarding this matter, please count on me to possibly assist you in a determination.

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