Tree, Plant and Landscape Appraisals for Damages Caused by California Wildfires

The Woolsey Fire

Once again, Californian’s throughout the state continue to suffer devastating losses due to wildfires.  From the southland to northern California and the foothills of the sierra’s, the Woolsey, Camp, Hill and seemingly countless other fires have ravaged our state.  From October through December, Santa Ana winds fan destructive blazes that grow in size with each passing year.

During recovery efforts, insurers and attorneys require a tree or landscape appraisal to settle a client claim.  In the past year, RDCS  provided appraisals for damages caused by  the Thomas fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, the Lilac fire in San Diego North county, the Liberty fire in Riverside County, Pocket fire in Geyserville, and the Erskine fire in Lake Isabella.

I recently published an article on the importance of specialized tree and plant appraisers  for determining the cost and value of fire damaged trees, plants and landscape.  Read the article  Fire Damage & Tree Appraisal.

The Benefits of the ANSI A300 Tree Care Standards for Tree Related Lawsuits

Guy + Chainsaw – Tree = Potential Lawsuit vs
ANSI A300 Tree Care Performance Standards

Does he know what he is doing?

Does he know what he is doing?

Background

Tree care professionals contracting for services are frequently members of the Tree Care Industry Association, (TCIA). The International Society of Arboriculture, (ISA), administers various types of arborist certification programs, including certified arborist or certified tree worker climber. The American Society of Consulting Arborist  offers arborists training and testing to become a registered consulting arborist, (RCA). These associations provide industry standards and best management practices for members to adopt into in their own practice.

Note the personal protective clothing, ropes, saddle etc.

Personal protective clothing, ropes, saddle etc.

In California, C-27 landscape contractors and D-49 tree service contractors are licensed by the state, both can legally perform tree care service. Prior to 1991, various industry associations, contractors and practitioners followed their own standards for tree care.

The industry recognized the need for a standardized, scientific approach and agreed to develop an official American National Standard, resulting in the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) A300 Tree Shrub, and Other Woody Plant Management Operations – Standard Practices.

They are voluntary industry consensus standards developed by TCIA and written by the Accredited Standards Committee (ASC) A300, whose mission is to develop consensus performance standards based on current research and sound practices for writing specifications to manage trees, shrubs, and other woody plants.

The ISA and ASCA are members of the ASC and their member practices should conform to the ANSI A300 tree care performance standards. The standards “apply to professionals who provide for, or supervise the management of trees, shrubs, and other woodsy landscape plants. Intended users include businesses, government agencies, property owners, property managers and utilities.” Many municipalities have adopted the ANSI A300 performance standards as part of their tree and landscape maintenance ordinance. The A300 standards are separated into 10 parts based on the tree care practice.

ANSI A300 Performance Standards for Legal Conflict Support

Arboriculture professionals adhere to the ANSI A300 performance standards for developing specifications for tree care. Gardeners, landscapers, designers, and handy men are not certified arborists and rarely have knowledge of industry standards. Even licensed landscape architects, civil engineers, general and landscape contractors may not be familiar with or have knowledge of the A300 standards. Ignorance of the standards is not a legal excuse for violating or ingnoring the standards.

The standards are separated into ten different parts. Through case experience, I have found three of the ANSI A300 standards applicable for plaintiff or defendant tree related legal actions. In conflicts I’ve been involved with, the civil engineer, landscape architects, general contractor, landscape and sub-contractors and even licensed tree care companies were not aware of the A300 standards. In some instances, industry professionals were aware of the standards but failed to adhere to the them.

Without proper planning and management, construction and development projects adjacent to existing trees commonly damage tree roots, trunks and limbs, increasing the risk of a potential tree failure and resultant lawsuit. ANSI A300 (Part 5) Standard Practices (Management of Trees and Shrubs During Site Planning, Site Development, and Construction) is the recognized industry standard for managing trees during construction and is the focus of this discussion.

The A300 Part 5 Performance Standard is intended for use for industry professionals, including all levels of government agencies, private entities including commercial, industrial and residential property owners and managers, engineers, architects and utilities for developing written specifications. The standards apply to any person or entity engaged in the management of trees, shrubs or other woody plants.

ANSI A300 Part 5 standard

ANSI A300 Part 5 standard

Without specifications for tree protection during construction and development, tree injuries occur. Depending on the severity of the injury, the defect may degrade the structural integrity of the tree. Over time, the injury may continue to decay, increasing the risk of failure and resultant damage to people and or property. The reason for the standard is to assess the level of risk and to provide information for risk mitigation.

Civil engineers, landscape architects and other professionals responsible for developing plans and specifications should be aware of the A300 standards. These professionals may not have the tree knowledge expertise, which is why the standard refers professionals to use a certified arborist qualified in tree management during site planning, development and construction.

The standard discusses implementation procedures that should be designed by a professional arborist including:
• Tree management plans in compliance with applicable ordinances and standards.
• Decision making should be based on the knowledge of health and safety of the tree resources present.
• Prime consultant and contractor should involve the arborist in the initial planning phases.
• Arborist site monitoring during construction should be specified to ensure compliance with plan requirement.
• Monitoring specifications should address demolition, grading, vertical construction, walks and pathways, playgrounds, excavations, trenching, drainage systems, and landscape.

For safety, the standard requires only arborists familiar with the standards, practices and hazards of arboriculture shall perform tree management. One of the objectives of the standard it to avoid damaging trees during construction; including damage caused by physical contact, grade changes and soil compaction. To achieve the defined objectives on any project, the arborist should be involved in the management of trees during all five phases of development including:
• Planning
• Design
• Pre-construction
• Construction
• Post-construction

Development and construction projects are complex, requiring planning and coordination among project shareholders. The prime consultant and or contractor should maintain arborist involvement throughout the various phases of the project in conjunction with the arborist developing specifications, resource assessment, conservation plans, monitoring and recommendations. The TCIA website has an exhibit of a Tree management plan flow chart defining what should occur during the development phases, arborist responsibility and development activity.

How the A300 Standard Applies in a Legal Context

The standard applies to all design and planning professionals such as civil engineers and landscape architects. These firms usually work as prime consultants and are responsible for producing the plans and specifications for development projects. They are responsible for knowing and adhering to the A300 performance standards. The same applies to prime contractors and their sub-contractors, and other project stakeholders.

Failing adherence to the A300 standards renders prime consultant(s), general and sub-consultants potentially liable if a tree related accident occurs. I used the A300 standard in a case involving a tree limb that fell from a tree onto an adjacent tot-lot.

A city decided to build a park within a former old growth forest. A civil engineer and landscape architect developed plans and specifications, including a grading plan with notes and a detail for tree protection. The general contractor, grading, and recreation equipment sub-contractors constructed the park. The design included a tot-lot with children play equipment built where trees were removed, with old, construction damaged trees remaining left intact at the edge of the tot-lot.

A few days after the park opened, a tree limb dropped onto the tot-lot, striking and killing a young child seated on a piece of play equipment. The parents sued the city, the design consultants and all the contractors because the defendants did not observe the city tree ordinance. The city ordinance adopted the A300 tree care standards as part of their tree ordinance, which the defendants ignored, arguing the standard did not apply to their trade(s). After extensive deposition testimony, using the standards in support of the Plaintiffs (parents of the deceased child), all the defendants settled rather than proceeding with a trial.

In another case, a property owner agreed to allow a guy to prune a tree. The guy claimed to have forestry experience. He had a rope tied around a limb that he cut just as a neighbor walked out of their house. The limb dropped, rebounded at the end of the rope causing it to swing and strike the neighbor in the face. In the resulting lawsuit, the A300 standards were used to support the plaintiff complaint with a resultant settlement from the insurer.

The A300 standards apply to tree care companies, certified and consulting arborists. Different standards may apply depending on the case. For example, A300 (Part 9), Tree Risk Assessment A. Tree Failure, provides performance standards for tree risk assessment and guidelines for establishing written specification and best management practices, (BMP).

As a certified and registered consulting arborist, tree risk assessment inspections and reports are consulting services I provide, I’ve incorporated this and other standards into my practice.  Tree care contractors might find other standards, such A300 (Part 1) Pruning, Part 5 (previously discussed) and Part 9 particularly applicable to their business.

In conclusion, the ANSI A300 Tree, Shrub, and Other Woody Plant Management Performance Standards are a powerful tool that may benefit a plaintiff or defendant involved in a tree related accident. The standards are broad reaching in scope and application to a wide variety of construction and development professionals. Attorneys and insures should consider the potential application of A300 performance standards in tree related cases.

Landscape and Tree Contractors, Minimize Lawsuits, Understand Your Duty of Care!

If you are a landscape or tree care contractor, you should be aware of the potential liability you face by an unhappy client. This awareness begins when you understand your “duty of care” as a landscape or tree care professional.

What is “duty of care”? It is a very important legal concept that simply stated means a person or organization has the legal obligation to avoid acts or omissions that could harm others. The duty of care extends to your actions or lack of action that would cause harm to your client or their property, perhaps even extending to adjacent properties and utilities.

Licensed contractors should understand their client hired them for their expertise and professionalism. The client is reliant upon the contractor to provide a product and service that conforms to industry standards. It is incumbent upon the contractor to satisfy all contractual obligations and satisfy the industry standard of care, or face a possible lawsuit.

If you are a landscape, maintenance or tree contractor interested in learning how to minimize you legal exposure and reduce your liability, please read the full article at:

Reduce Liability by Understanding Your Duty of Care

Let it Burn or Suppress It? US Park Service vs Cal Fire Policy

This past summer brought us the gigantic Rim fire that devastated Yosemite National Park and surrounding communities. Over 4,900 firefighters operated under a unified command, however when the fire crossed over into the boundary between state and national park land, the National Park Service took a very different approach than Cal Fires (California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection). Continue reading “Let it Burn or Suppress It? US Park Service vs Cal Fire Policy” »

California Trees Under Attack, Are You Part of the Problem?

We have seen an increasing number of disease pathogens and insects attacking many tree species throughout our country.  In Southern California, the gold spotted oak borer, (GSOB), (Agrilus auroguttatu), first introduced in San Diego County between 1990-2000 has spread into Riverside County and is expected to spread throughout California.  This pest specifically targets the Coast Live Oak and Black Oak, (Quercus agrifolia, Quercus kelloggii), both oaks comprising a major part of our red oak forests throughout California.

GoldSpottedOakBorer, US Forest Service

The adult female beetle lays eggs on host trees mainly June through September, the eggs hatch into larvae which bore through the outer bark and feed on the phloem and xylem, the interior vascular system of the tree.  After several months, the larvae mature into pupae, which eventually bore from the vascular tissue just under the bark, and may be observed on the outer bark of infested trees April through July.  Adult emergence follows and the beetles feed on the foliage of the infected trees throughout summer, mating and then repeating the life cycle. Continue reading “California Trees Under Attack, Are You Part of the Problem?” »

The Pros and Cons When Using a Landscape Design-Build Contractor

Pros and Cons

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This Post is Part Two of a Series, Click Here to Read Part One

In part one of the series Landscape Contractors Standard of Care, I discussed why a professional landscape contractor is held to a higher standard of care than an ordinary laymen. Wikipedia defines standard of care as “In certain industries and professions, the standard of care is determined by the standard that would be exercised by the reasonably prudent manufacturer of a product, or the reasonably prudent professional in that line of work.”

The previous article focused on primary contract documents required for professional landscape contractors and their clients. Contract documents focus on a design, plans, specifications, notes and details that provide the contractor information on how to price, bid, and construct a project. But what happens where there are no landscape plans or specifications for a project, no information is provided to the contractor to provide an accurate bid, quote or estimate and if awarded the contract, no information on how to construct the project? Continue reading “The Pros and Cons When Using a Landscape Design-Build Contractor” »

My Biggest Pet Peeve

Pet Peeve Photo

Gardeners. Yes, gardeners are one of my biggest pet peeves. Why pick on gardeners you ask? First, I want to differentiate between people who garden versus individuals who call themselves “gardeners” and provide gardening services, typically monthly maintenance gardeners.

What are the qualifications to become a “gardener” and turn that into a profession?
• A pick up truck.
• A lawn mower.
• A string trimmer.
• A blower. Continue reading “My Biggest Pet Peeve” »

Eucalyptus Limb Drop-Who is to Blame?

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It was just after Labor Day, while enjoying a walk through Morley Field, a portion of Balboa Park in San Diego; I came across an enormous limb lying on the ground beneath a 75′ tall Eucalyptus cladocalyx (Sugar Gum) tree.

Fortunately, no one was underneath the tree when this limb failed, or there could have been a catastrophe. Decades ago, when Balboa Park and Morley Field were created, Eucalyptus trees were heavily planted throughout park areas. They have since grown into towering, majestic trees, many greater than 100’ tall. The trees exist individually and grouped in stands of trees throughout the parkland area. Continue reading “Eucalyptus Limb Drop-Who is to Blame?” »

Landscape Contractor’s, Does Your Work Satisfy the Industry Standard of Care?

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This post is part one in a series, click here to read part two.

For landscape contractors not familiar with the legal term “standard of care”, you need to understand the meaning and legal implications of NOT performing to the professional standard of care expected and common within the landscape contracting industry. Wikipedia defines the professional standard of care as “In certain industries and professions, the standard of care is determined by the standard that would be exercised by the reasonably prudent manufacturer of a product, or the reasonably prudent professional in that line of work. The standard of care is important because it determines the level of negligence required to state a valid cause of action.

This definition means if you perform landscape contracting services and your work product is found defective, deficient and or results in personal injury or property loss, you can be sued and found guilty in a court of law. The financial settlement will depend on the severity of the accident, property loss or injury. If you don’t think a lawsuit is a concern to your business, then you are most likely a candidate for a future lawsuit. Understanding your contractual and legal obligations as a licensed professional landscape contractor is paramount to protecting yourself and company from future legal action. Continue reading “Landscape Contractor’s, Does Your Work Satisfy the Industry Standard of Care?” »