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To Cut (Your Own) or Not to Cut: A Christmas Tree Farm Conundrum

Fall 2020 Issue

By Melissa Stream, Underwriting Consultant

“We’re kicking off our fun old-fashioned family Christmas by heading out into the country in the old front-wheel-drive sleigh to embrace the frosty majesty of the winter landscape and select that most important of Christmas symbols. We’re looking for the Griswold family Christmas tree!” – Clark Griswold, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

Visiting a Christmas tree farm is a big part of the season for many families during the holidays. From the family’s perspective, it may be the official start of their holiday celebration. From the perspective of the insurance company, several hazards are involved in choosing that tree, cutting down the tree and getting it to the buyer’s car and to their home.

The WRC Liability Manual specifies that Christmas tree farms that have the trees pre-cut for customers to pick out and take home are eligible to be written on a farmowners policy. This minimizes the liability hazards that could expose the insured to bodily injury or property damage claims if they allow the customers to go out, select and cut their own tree.

What if the insured doesn’t supply the saws? You then have the exposure of customers bringing their own tools to cut down a tree without knowledge of their experience or maintenance of the tools. What if the customer starts cutting down trees for other customers who didn’t bring their own tool? The insured may not have liability coverage for the negligence of customers using their own saws or tools to cut down trees on the insured’s premises. Another question to ask is if the farm employees tie a tree to a customer’s car or if that is left to the customer. The latter is preferred to minimize the possibility of causing damage to the customer’s vehicle or causing property damage or bodily injury to a third party if the tree comes off the car on the customer’s way home.

Another hazard is the uneven terrain of the Christmas tree farm, which could span several acres. Paths may be laid out for customers but there’s no guarantee that they will stay on those paths. Add a sharp saw to a customer who has little experience using it and is traversing over that uneven terrain to find the perfect tree, and the liability exposure has increased substantially.

When reviewing a new policy or a renewal for a tree farm, look at more than the application for underwriting information. You might be able to find a state association for Christmas tree farms that lists which allow visitors to cut their own trees. The tree farms often have a website or a Facebook page that will advertise if customers can cut their own tree, if there will be any appearances by Santa, if any food or beverages will be provided, if “sleigh rides” are offered, etc. Many of these activities could be considered “agri-tainment,” which are ineligible exposures and may not be covered by the insured’s farm policy. Other people’s products, such as handmade wreaths, may also be advertised for sale at the farm.