Insurance for Landscapers: How Do You Know If Your Guy Is Covered?

A lot of value can be found in small, locally owned landscaping companies for your home improvement project. In many cases, you will find that the smaller, family owned firm is more flexible, more responsive to your specific needs, and less expensive than the large national brands.

Unfortunately, there is another side of this coin. Mixed in with the excellent small firms are some bad apples that you definitely want to avoid. Reports of scams, shabby work, and accidents are all too common. So you must do your homework if you want to go with the small business instead of the national brand.

The best place to start when checking out any contractor is with insurance. Insurance is the easiest thing to check, yet the most overlooked part of a landscaper’s credentials. It is the easiest thing to check because all you have to do is tell the landscaper to have his insurance company send you a certificate. They can do this by email, snail mail, or fax. It must come from the insurance company in order to be valid, and it should contain your information as well. If you get any resistance to this request, cross this landscaper off of your list and move on; they’re not insured. It is not acceptable to have a copy of the insurance certificate tucked into the estimate package.

  • Special note: if you are having tree work done by the landscaper (tree removal, tree cutting, tree trimming, etc.), the insurance certificate must specify it or the work will not be covered.

Insurance is the most overlooked part of landscaper credentials because we as consumers are over-assured by false claims of coverage. Just because there is a sticker on a truck or billboard advertisement proclaiming “fully licensed and insured” does not mean that the insurance will cover what you need it to.

  • Example: a worker fell from a ladder in New York in 2009. His employer did not have a workers compensation insurance policy, only a general liability policy which does not cover workers’ injuries. The homeowner was sued and held responsible for all of the worker’s medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering – a seven figure settlement!
  • Example: Service Magic proclaimed a landscaper to be pre-screened, so the homeowner assumed that he had all of the insurance coverage needed. The fact is that insurance coverage is not part of the Service Magic pre-screening process. You could be (and most likely are) hiring somebody with no insurance. Contractors without insurance are attracted to sites like Service Magic because of Service Magic’s screening process which does not include insurance. Avoid Service Magic and sites like it altogether.
  • Example: a landscaping company in Northern Virginia agreed to remove a hazardous tree from a property in Arlington. A worker was electrocuted by high voltage lines while working. The insurance company would not cover the damages because the landscaper was working outside of the parameters of coverage.

All of these examples of uninsured and underinsured contractors are easily avoided by simply examining the certificate of insurance of the contractor. Look for three things on the certificate.

  1. General Liability – This insures against any damages done to property during the project, provided the contractor is performing the kind of work specified on the policy.
  2. Workers Compensation – This insures against injury to workers while working on the project. It is the most important part of the certificate because it is the most expensive policy in a binder, and it can have the most expensive claims to cover.
  3. Commercial Auto – This is often overlooked, but very important because a personal policy will not cover accidents that occur while working for hire. So auto insurance must be included on the contractor’s certificate.

Of course, there are other things to consider when hiring a landscape contractor. But if you start with insurance, you will weed out many of the unqualified firms right away.