Editorial: Big tree, big trouble

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 6, 2006

The answer to a Zen koan nobody asked: Yes, if a giant oak topples onto your roof, it definitely makes a sound.

It also can make a financial mess, especially if the homeowner isn’t protected by insurance — either through a residential policy or one covering the company doing the work, as Lyn Adrian learned through a catastrophic experience. Her ordeal should set off warning klaxons for anyone contemplating having trees trimmed or removed from their property.

As related in Kathy Chaffin’s story in Tuesday’s Post, Adrian hired Rob’s Auto Repair and Landscaping to remove an oak from the yard of her Lee Street house. While the owner of the company, Rob Miller, and Adrian disagree over the steps that preceded the mishap and who’s responsible, the outcome is starkly visible. The tree landed on top of Adrian’s house, leaving her with a repair bill estimated in the tens of thousands of dollars. She also has to pay another tree company to remove the fallen giant from her crunched roof, which will be another substantial expense.

Although felling trees may look like simple labor that can be accomplished by a couple of brawny guys with a chain saw and a big truck, it’s actually exacting, potentially dangerous work that should be performed only by those who have expertise and experience, as well as adequate insurance coverage. In this case, Adrian is now apparently stuck with the damage and what bodes to be a less than warm and cozy Christmas. Even so, this horror story could have thundered down to an even worse conclusion. Someone could have been serously injured or even killed.

Homeowners, take note. We’re entering the season when ice storms and snows can damage vulnerable trees. Those who require the services of a tree company should follow a few basic guidelines. Make sure you’re dealing with a reputable company that has proven expertise in tree work and can supply proof of insurance for property damage, personal liability and workman’s compensation. If you have any doubts, verify the coverage with the insurance company. Get assessments and estimates from more than one company, detailing precisely what the job entails and how much it will cost. Ask for references and call the previous customers to get their evaluation of the company’s work.

Finally, in the event of an emergency such an ice storm or heavy snow that brings down limbs around the neighborhood, beware of tree workers who cruise the streets, going door to door to solicit work. While some may be legitimate, responsible businesses, others may take your money and either not do the work at all or do it improperly. Don’t make a hasty decision.

Trees are a valuable part of the landscape, and they need proper care and maintenance to flourish. When the end comes, they also need skilled hands to provide for a safe descent to earth. As this costly mistake shows, an errant toppling can leave a lot more on the ground than broken limbs.