Professional liability insurance is also referred to as errors and omissions (E & O), or, in the tree care industry, arborist E & O. Professional liability coverage is designed to protect the arborist from liability incurred because of errors and omissions when providing professional services.
Most of the work of a consulting arborist qualifies as professional services. Tree-risk assessment, horticultural advice, tree valuations, landscape assessment and landscape-construction consultation are services that have the potential to cause economic harm and probably won’t be covered by a general liability policy. Without an E & O policy, the arborist has no coverage or even defense cost for the claim that results from these services.
The operations of a tree care contractor may be primarily pruning, removals, stump grinding and landscape work, but they also have professional liability exposures. Tree care contractors are asked to provide opinions on tree health and treatment. The most common E & O claim is the error of removing the wrong tree. This means that even the tree-service contractor who doesn’t employ a consulting arborist, and who may only do tree pruning and removal, still has the potential for an arborist E & O claim.
The most common general liability (GL) claims are the small property damage claims like damaged fences or driveways resulting from pruning and heavy-equipment mishaps. E & O experience is similar; most claims are minor, but there is the potential for claims resulting in large settlements, sometimes several hundred thousand dollars. An incident took place in a campground in 2018 that resulted in a six-figure E & O claim.
Weeks after a tree care company pruned trees in the campground, a large limb fell from a tree while several children were under it. The limb landed on a girl. She was taken to the hospital by ambulance and needed surgery. The girl’s parents brought a suit against the campground and the tree care company. The argument was that a trained arborist should have seen the dying or dead limb and removed it. By not removing it, they had failed in their duty as an arborist.
You may ask, “What about my GL policy – won’t that provide coverage for these types of losses?”
Probably not. The general liability policy is designed to provide coverage for bodily injury or property damage resulting from your operations. The limb that struck the girl in the campground was not the result of the arborists’ work; they had not trimmed that tree. Not removing the limb was the omission. Remember the argument was that an arborist should have seen the condition of the limb and removed it. Every situation is different, but a GL policy typically provides coverage for bodily injury or property damage that arises out of your work.
A few insurance products created specifically for the tree care industry do provide arborist E & O. Most general liability policies that were not designed for the tree care industry will specifically exclude the coverage. In that case, you will need to purchase a separate professional liability policy to obtain the coverage. I recommend finding an insurance agent who specializes in tree care. The agent who isn’t already familiar with tree care industry operations may not understand all the exposures of tree care work.
Jeffry Blackman is program manager for the ArborMax Insurance Program, a program of Eydent Insurance Services, LLC, a 15-year TCIA Associate Member company based in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.