Possible Liability Issues With Residential Pesticide And Herbicide Treatments

With springtime approaching, it’s also the time when many homeowners will begin making plans for chemical treatments of their lawns, trees, and shrubs and other vegetation. There are a lot of legal issues implicated by such work that many people probably don’t think about. Let’s discuss a few of them.

The most common chemical treatments for homeowners are herbicides and pesticides. Herbicides kill and control unwanted vegetation, particularly weeds. Pesticides kill undesirable organisms in lawns, trees, and vegetation.

These chemicals are often indiscriminate. They can kill or harm people, pets, and vegetation as easily as they can affect undesirable vegetation and organisms. Many of them come with Material Data Safety Sheets that identify their chemical composition, dangers and safety information, and recommended uses.

From that comes the primary source of claims against companies that apply such chemicals – Negligence in the chemical application that causes harm to desirable vegetation, people, or pets by failing to follow all product cautions and use recommendations. The applicator could use an improper mixture of chemicals, use too much of the product, or use the product on the wrong vegetation. The company could be liable for negligence if harm results.  

Product drift on wind can also be a basis for a negligence claim. These chemicals are accompanied by cautions regarding use in windy conditions. Wind can cause the product to drift farther or in a different direction than intended. That may lead to the chemicals reaching unintended targets or even an entirely different property. A claim may exist against the company if that causes damage or destruction to desirable vegetation.

There’s always the possibility that the chemical applicator will simply not follow the homeowner’s work order. Perhaps the wrong chemicals are used. Maybe the wrong things are sprayed. Maybe the work was entirely wrong and there wasn’t supposed to be any chemical treatment at all. The company can be liable for resulting damages if the chemical applicator doesn’t follow the homeowner’s treatment instructions.

One of the worst possible scenarios is that the chemical applicator goes to the wrong property and treats it because the company gets the address wrong or gets the address right but the applicator goes to the wrong place. A similar thing could happen if the chemical applicator begins on the wrong property but then moves onto a neighboring property because the applicator doesn’t realize where the property lines are. The company could be liable under such circumstances.

The possible money damages from such events are varied. Certainly a standard personal injury claim could exist if a person’s injured by negligent pesticide or herbicide application. That’d allow recovery of medical expenses, pain and suffering, and wrongful death damages, if that’s the result.

If trees or desirable vegetation are harmed by chemicals, the possible damages will depend upon whether the chemicals killed the vegetation or whether the vegetation can be saved. Replacement costs for trees and vegetation killed by chemicals is appropriate. There may be an argument over the type of replacement if the tree or vegetation was mature – Brand new, relatively inexpensive trees or vegetation, or more expensive trees and vegetation of the same level of maturity as that destroyed. If the tree or vegetation can be saved, then the damages would primarily be the cost of such efforts.

Harley Erbe