Tree and Landscape Settlements: The Man Behind the Green Curtain

When a tree falls on a person or property, insurance companies basically want to know three things:

  1.  What caused the tree failure?
  2.  Was there a defect that was open and obvious prior to the fall?
  3.  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 detected prior to the failure.

In most scenarios, there exists a duty to inspect the subject trees and neighboring trees for defects in the before situation of failure. As the distance between trees growing in heavily populated areas extends to trees in bucolic areas, the duty to inspect lowers. There are rules and procedures to identifying trees at risk for failure, found in the American National Standards Institute (ANSI A300, Part 9), Tree Risk Assessment.

The answer to the third question is far more elusive and profoundly difficult to provide. There are just a handful of tree professionals in the nation who can appraise a casualty tree and provide the value, although there are hundreds of times that arborists think they can provide an appraised value of a tree. It is this latter group of arborists that the insured often retains to provide that value to them.

But there exists a credential for arborists who have that acumen: Tree Risk Assessment Qualified (TRAQ). Note that as in valuations, Risk Assessment is a topic of heated debate in the tree world. Nonetheless, when looking for defects in the before or after situation of failure, the TRAQ credential holder may be the expert to seek out to identify the defects in a tree in the before situation of failure.

Tree and landscape valuations garner more acrimony in the ranks of arborists than probably any other area of Arboriculture. To be sure, the current edition of the Bible of tree and landscape valuations, the much alienated “10th Edition” is considered blasphemous to the core of our ranks with much consternation among arborists. And, yes, there exists a credential for that niche in the marketplace, “Tree and Plant Appraisal Qualified(TPAQ).  But even that credential is much maligned among the members of the tree world, and finds itself in the infancy of development.

When the assignment comes to tree and landscape valuations, the most straightforward method of appraisal is an approach you know as the Replacement Cost Method. Here the irreparably damaged tree or landscape plant is of the same (or very similar) size and species that can be located in the open marketplace for sale by a willing buyer/ willing seller scenario. The common mistake in plant valuations is the omission of the condition rating just prior to the loss. Just like a car, a tree or plant has a condition rating which must be considered prior to a final valuation being made.

The challenges of diagnosis for tree defects in the after situation of failure or the degree of difficulty in placing a value on a tree or plant is significantly exacerbated by the ability to testify to those opinions should the matter escalate to lawsuit. You are not just seeking an arborist who can provide you with a professional opinion but also can testify to that opinion under oath, including the much-dreaded cross examination.  Everyone has a game plan and definite opinion until cross examination begins.

The arborist you seek to assist you in a claim must have a CV showing their experience and expertise in past matters as the one you have in hand. And, there must be demonstrated on their CV or otherwise make available to you, their testimony experience for both the plaintiff and the defendant in similar matters as the instant assignment.

I do wish you well in your claim settlement. Please do consider me a resource in navigating the puzzle maze that may lie before you with regard to failed trees or valuation matters. In many instances, your problem can be answered over the phone as a professional courtesy.

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