Plain as Dirt: Questioning insurance in the Vail Valley |

Plain as Dirt: Questioning insurance in the Vail Valley

Tom Glass
Tom Glass

I am now selling insurance. Here’s how that happened to a plant guy like me. (And, what’s more, you can act today to protect yourself and your loved ones from a financial debacle should something accidentally happen in your backyard tomorrow.)

While buying tires, I ran into an acquaintance who happens to be a longtime valley landscaper and property manager. Actually, I think he’s a little bit of whatever he wants to be on any given day. I’ll call him The Lone Ranger. He’s colorful, an entrepreneur’s entrepreneur and a solid businessman.

In a show of respect, I asked him if there were any particular topics he’d like covered in this column. He thought a minute and replied, “Insurance. Remind people that they should hire insured contractors.” With the speed of light and a cloud of dust, he was gone before I could thank him.

At the time, I thought, “How shrewdly entrepreneurial of him, asking me to help limit his competition to only the insured and not the fly-by-night opportunists that cheapen his whole industry.” I almost didn’t accept the job, but then I stewed for a few weeks on the merits of his suggestion and came to realize that insurance had a rightful place here in “Plain as Dirt”, right there alongside certification, licensing and the composting of manure.

You might think anybody can landscape or maintain the exteriors of properties ” after all, all one needs is a pickup truck, a shovel and a strong back. Sign, cell phone and a facility with the native tongue are optional.

Participate in The Longevity Project

The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.

Visit most any convenience store in the valley at 7 a.m., and you’ll find hanging around outside by the pay phone a whole crew of guys willing to work in your yard like crazed beavers ” only cheaper. Lead the whole posse back to your home, hand out the mower, chainsaw, weed-eater and other tools, explain the job at hand and, presto, you own responsibility for the whole back-straining world of hurt that can happen on your property. Comprende?

Hire the neighbor kid to clean out your gutters, same thing. If he flops wailing to the ground, unless your homeowner’s policy covers a minor working on your roof sans a safety belt, you’re buying whatever is damaged ” be it ulna or neck.

You might think I’m advocating hiring only established contractors ” protecting the old local guard. You might be confused. As you probably know, selling insurance is much more subtle and complex than that. It’s all in the fine print. Hire anyone you want, but ask them to prove that they are licensed and insured.

You can hire an old-line, reputable contractor who manages short-term cash flow by letting his workers’ comp insurance lapse briefly, and you could get the emergency-room bill if a worker briefly pokes themselves in the eye with one of your sticks. Amazing, isn’t it?

My point is, if there’s no one paid to let the fiscal finger of fate point in their direction, what happens at your place ultimately falls to you.

If your contractor hires illegals, do you think they are insured in the eyes of your contractor’s insurance company? Think again. If your already marginally profitable contractor can’t or won’t cover medical costs incurred as a result of something unfortunate occurring on your property, then you’re next in line. So sue him. That’ll probably end with a moral victory but, ultimately, without financial gain.

Liability almost always is held by the owner of the property where something went wrong. That is, the property owner is liable unless someone is paid to stand between the homeowner and the liability. Most often, the cheapest place for you to pay for that protection is by hiring a licensed and insured contractor.

There are a few reasons why contractors in this valley charge what they do, and one of them is the overhead costs of insurance, certifications, licensing and training. Insurance isn’t the only issue here.

For example, this valley’s got bugs in a big way. We’ve got pine beetles, scale, plus all manner of aphids sucking and chewing the life out of our trees. Do you really want some mad dog out in the noonday sun spraying your grounds without the proper gear or knowledge of what to do if he accidentally dribbles a little concentrated killer onto your driveway? No, contrary to your better instincts, grabbing a hose is not the first thing that should be done. Rivulets of runoff ruin rivers.

I think the average homeowner is completely unnerved when they spot someone wearing a full-face respirator, shower cap and plastic coveralls methodically spraying the unknown all over their neighbor’s trees.

Me? I’m unnerved when they’re not wearing the full moon suit. The presence of that suit increases the likelihood that whoever is inside the suit is able to read and understand a pesticide label plus pay attention to where the over-spray is drifting.

Hire an unlicensed pesticide sprayer, and you might save five, okay, maybe 100 bucks per application. Think of the savings! On the low end, that’ll buy you a beer or, on the highend, an offseason dinner for two, maybe three if everyone likes mussels.

Instead of the beer or the mussels, I advocate the upgrade to trained, licensed, certified and insured bug dusters. You’ll sleep better. And, as an added bonus, we and our pets might all live a little better longer.

Thank you, masked man, for the column idea. Once again you have helped save the West from outlaws and banditos.

Support Local Journalism