Protecting yourself against unlicensed tree trimmers

Tree trimmer injuries shining light on liability

TAMPA, Fla. -
Two tree trimmers shocked when their 32-foot ladder hit a power line remain in the hospital Wednesday, seriously injured.
 
While it's unclear if the two tree trimmers were insured when the accident happened, the Better Business Bureau serving West Florida says homeowners can open themselves up to big risks if an uninsured tree trimmer is injured while working on your property.
 
Ralph Campbell, owner of Bay Area Maintenance & Tree Care in Tampa, said his workers have a nickname for power lines.
 
"The power lines are always a problem," he said. "In fact, they call them the widow makers."
 
But he says many uninsured tree trimmers will come knocking on your door, promising a cheap price and a quick job.
 
"They want to go ahead and get the job done," Campbell said. "So they'll go ahead and gamble and work right in the power lines." 
 
But the Better Business Bureau says that can open homeowners up to huge risks if one of the tree trimmers or yard workers are injured on your property.
 
"They can actually sue you as a homeowner for the injury that's occurred," said Bryan Oglesby of the Better Business Bureau serving West Florida.
 
The BBB says don't hire the person who knocks on your door and to get at least three bids before hiring a company. They also say make sure the company has workers compensation and liability insurance.
 
"And don't just take their word for it," he said. "Make sure you verify that. Ask for proof of that insurance."
 
You can verify a company's insurance yourself by checking with the State of Florida's Department of Financial Services. The BBB says doing your homework before hiring could ultimately save you thousands of dollars.
 

BBB Tips: Hiring a Tree Service

When it comes to tree care, some jobs are too big and too dangerous, or just need professional expertise to keep the tree healthy. Though there are many reliable tree companies that provide these services, there are also a few that are looking to be paid in full for services they have no plans to actually finish.

Better Business Bureau (BBB) reminds people that there are steps to take to ensure your finding reputable tree trimming companies you can trust.

    •    Track Record.   Before you hire check out the company’s BBB Business Review at bbb.org.  It’s fast, easy and free.  Also check to see if they are a member of professional organizations such as The International Society of Arboriculture, American Society of Consulting Arborist, Tree Care Industry Association or the Florida Arborists Association.

    •    Look for the BBB Accredited Business Seal.  BBB Accredited Tree Service Companies meet BBB accreditation standards, which include a commitment to build trust, advertise honestly, tell the truth, be transparent, honor their promises, be responsive to their customers, safeguard privacy and embody integrity.

    •    Cost Comparisons.  Get at least three quotes in writing, compare the quotes based on the same specification and make sure they have proper equipment to perform the job quoted.  Don’t assume that tree stump removal is included if it’s not specified.  Remember, quality of work may be more important than price.

    •    References.  Ask for references from the company’s last three jobs and contact them for testimonial. 

    •    Permits.  Obtain applicable permits for the work to be done.

    •    Licensing.  No formal license is required for tree trimming in Florida.  Do your homework.  Licensing may be required at the state, county and/or city levels to perform additional types of service needed in this industry. Example: If company applies any pesticides verify they have proper state pesticide applicator’s license. 

    •    Local Business Tax Receipt / Ordinances.  Most communities have safe tree ordinances and require a business to obtain a local business tax receipt.  Check with your local tax collector’s office and know your local ordinances before you have any trees removed.  A reputable tree company will know the local ordinances before starting any project.

    •    Insurance.  Verify the company has personal and property damage liability insurance and workers compensation insurance by getting certificates of insurance with you listed as the certificate holder.  You can also verify proof of Workers Comp Insurance with the Florida Department of Financial Services.  Make sure that all workers on the job site are covered and are using hardhats along with other personal protective equipment.

    •    Written Contract.  Do not permit work to start without a signed, written contract that includes start and completion dates, exact costs, specific work to be done, to include protection of your property, clean up and removal of debris.  Be sure to read the fine print carefully.

    •    Deposits and Payment.  Do not pay large payments up front.  Stagger your payments according to work stages and do not make a final payment until the job is completed to your satisfaction.  Pay by check or credit card for added protection.  Paying by credit card provides some recourse should the job no be completed as stated in the contract.

    •    Criminal History.  Check out anyone you allow onto your property to see if they have a criminal history.

Ask the company: Do they employees undergo a background check?  Are they trained and certified?  Will they be wearing name tags and uniforms on the job?  Are the company vehicles clearly marked?

Ask if they will perform the work according to industry standards.

If they mention “topping a tree,” “lion’s-tailing” or “using climbing spikes to prune a tree” the company does not follow industry standards. “Topping” is drastically cutting back the major limbs of a tree to reduce its size.

“Lion’s tailing” is an extreme stripping out of most of the interior branches of a tree. Such practices can injure or kill your tree. Sometimes these techniques will be presented as a way to save money by removing more of the tree at one time. However a tree pruned by one of these methods usually requires more expensive restoration work in the future in order to save it.

Red Flags – Be Wary of a Tree Service Companies that:

  • Offers a Discount to act now.          
  • Have no printed materials, letterhead, bid forms, etc.
  • Is doing door-to-door solicitations.      
  • Is vague about his formal credentials as an arborist.
  • Offers an unusually low price… at first.      
  • Suggests topping techniques or lions-tailing to save on costs.
  • Pressures you for an immediate decision.  
  • Use climbing spikes on trees unless they are being removed.
  • Only accepts cash payments.
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