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RE: Liability Insurance

  • Subject: RE: [cg] Liability Insurance
  • From: "Jack Hale" <jackh@knoxparks.org>
  • Date: Tue, 10 Feb 2004 17:51:04 -0500
  • Importance: Normal

Here’s my old article about insurance for gardens.  It’s still pretty much true.

Jack Hale


Insurance for community gardens


For several years, the board of the American Community Gardening Association has been working to provide liability insurance for member gardens.  Surveys of members suggested that obtaining such insurance was a priority for many gardens.  We did provide access to coverage during 1998, but less than a dozen gardens took advantage of the offer.  In 1999, the insurance company was unwilling to renew the coverage, and we were unable to find another carrier.  Although we have continued to seek a carrier, we continue to be unsuccessful.  While the search continues, here is what I have been telling members who are seeking insurance.


1.                  Liability insurance protects the organization that owns it or some other entity (like a land owner) who is “named as additional insured” on the policy.  It protects gardeners or volunteers indirectly only if the insured organization stands between them and a potential lawsuit.  It does not protect individuals from legal action, nor does it necessarily pay individuals for injuries or damage that occur at a garden.  Most gardens have insurance because they have an organization to protect or because some other entity requires coverage in order for the garden to exist.


2.                  Usually, individual gardens seeking liability coverage will pay a high price.  Just as group health insurance is much less expensive than individual coverage, insurance purchased by a larger organization to cover a multitude of risks will be less expensive per coverage than the same insurance purchased piecemeal.  Therefore, if you are a single garden suffering from sticker shock, the best avenue may be to ask a larger organization that already has liability coverage to sponsor the garden.  Such organizations might include community groups, churches, horticultural/agricultural organizations, or anything else that might work in your locale.


3.                  Often it is a city or town providing land for a garden that is requesting insurance.  They usually have a “risk manager” whose job is to protect the municipality against all risk.  Whenever the town enters into a relationship, that relationship is passed before the risk manager, and the risk manager almost always says “buy insurance” to protect the town.  But towns always have lots of insurance.  They engage in lots of risky business.  Adding a community garden to their list of risks will have almost no impact on their overall risk and on the cost of their insurance.  It becomes a political issue and should be treated as such.  If the town wants to support community gardening, the risk is trivial; if the town doesn’t want to support community gardening, it is easier to say “buy insurance” than “we don’t like you.”

A side issue that arises in some cases is whether the gardens are public.  In Berkeley, California, the city wanted to require insurance and also require that the gardens be open to the public.  People who don’t want to support gardens compare them to parks that are ostensibly open to everybody all the time.  They point out that community gardens have fences and gates and private plots.  More politics.  Perhaps compare your garden to a football stadium.  Very risky activity going on there, and fully supported by the town!  Anybody can go and watch when there is a game on, but hardly anybody gets to play.  Which is more exclusive, a garden or a sports field?  Remember that anybody can walk by and look at the garden.  You might even schedule some times when the garden is open for public enjoyment.  This does suggest, however, that gardeners need to design and maintain their gardens in ways that truly do enhance their neighborhoods.


4.                  Insurance is a local business, governed to some extent by state law and regulation.  Although there is a certain amount of uniformity and insurance companies operate across state lines, your experience with coverages and costs may be quite different from those in a neighboring state.  If you have to buy insurance, a creative and responsive local agent can be very important.  Remember that there is a good chance they haven’t insured a garden before and they will have to figure out how to do it.  Here in Connecticut, we started out with an insurance agent who decided gardens were like vacant lots, which tend to attract inappropriate uses.  Premiums were based on street frontage and they were high.  Strangely enough, our largest garden, which had no street frontage, was insured for nothing, while one of our smaller gardens on a corner lot carried a high premium.  Our current agent, which specializes in insurance for non-profit social service organizations, decided gardens were like social service programs and did a more general analysis of risk.  Our premiums are now quite low.


5.                  If gardeners or garden officers are concerned about personal risk (i.e.-potential for being sued as individuals due to their involvement in a garden), the best solution is probably “umbrella coverage.”  People can usually obtain this for a relatively small premium as an add-on to homeowner’s or renter’s insurance.  Talk to your agent.


6.                  I am not an expert on insurance.  Don’t take this as professional advice from me or from the American Community Gardening Association.  At best, this is an indication of insurance issues as they have been faced by community gardens throughout the U.S. (not much info on Canada).  You need to work out your own local situation.    I will attempt to respond to questions about the information provided here and specific insurance issues.


Jack N. Hale

Executive Director

Knox Parks Foundation

75 Laurel Street

Hartford, CT 06106


f 860/951-7244




Now, about some of your questions.


Note item 1 above.  You can place a lot of constraints on use of the gardens, and some of them might have minor impact on premiums, but at $125 per garden, you are primarily paying for paperwork.  There is very little risk to start with.  My organization has been running gardens for over 30 years with very few rules, and we have had no claims.  I’ve been told that sometimes making a lot of rules signals to an insurance underwriter that you think the activity is particularly risky, and it may lead to higher premiums.


A “hold harmless” agreement signed by gardeners is probably not a bad idea, although it may scare some of them.  Just remember that no amount of such paperwork will protect your organization if you are actually negligent.


There are certain activities that might affect premiums for gardens.  Our agent always wants to know whether we will be sponsoring events that will bring in additional people or whether the garden is just for gardeners and occasional guests.  I would stay away from roto-tiller demolition derbies and pitchfork throwing contests.  You should be honest with your prospective agent(s) about likely activities.  If they tell you certain activities cause them stress, you should consider whether those activities are really necessary.


You will also need to talk with your agent about the relationship between insuring gardens and the rest of your insurance.  I think our agent just likes to write the biggest policy possible and otherwise doesn’t see much connection.


You might also want to think about whether gardens really are in danger of shutting down without insurance.  In some situations, landowners require proof of insurance in order to allow the use, but in less formal circumstances, a group of neighbors using land based on a handshake might not need that piece of paper.  If people are worried about their personal liability, they might do better obtaining umbrella coverage attached to their personal insurance instead of insuring the gardening activity, which has no assets to protect.  That’s true whether the garden has insurance or not.  If you leave a rake in the path and somebody trips over it and breaks a leg, they can sue you and the garden or sponsoring organization.  A good lawyer looks not just for who is at fault, but also at who has the ability to pay.


Gardeners may also want to approach landowners about being the garden sponsors.  Many non-profits, churches, and schools have insurance coverage that could easily absorb that added risk without significant increase in premiums.  Even municipalities could do that if you have the political juice to make it happen.  All of those agencies typically sponsor risky activities for the benefit of their communities.  Think of football teams and transporting children in vans and playgrounds that are open to the public.  Yikes!


Good luck to you.





-----Original Message-----
From: community_garden-admin@mallorn.com [mailto:community_garden-admin@mallorn.com]On Behalf Of Corrie Zoll
Sent: Tuesday, February 10, 2004 3:11 PM
To: acga@mallorn.com; community_garden@mallorn.com
Cc: Joyce Wisdom; jvrbymia@frontiernet.net
Subject: [cg] Liability Insurance


In the Minneapolis – Saint Paul region, an organization called The Sustainable Resources Center (SRC) has provided direct services to community gardens for the past 30 years, including lease holding and liability insurance.   SRC announced in December that they would be unable to provide leases, liability insurance, or other services to community gardens in 2004.  SRC insured more than 50 community gardens, and presumably every one of these gardens is at risk of shutting down without liability insurance coverage.


SRC was able to insure community gardens at the very low rate of $35 per year per garden site.  This covered $1,000,000 in commercial general liability insurance.  To put this number in context, one small organization that I work with found that insuring their single 5000 sq ft community garden site would cost more than $1200 per year.


I have been working over the past two months to figure out whether my organization, The Green Institute, can provide leases and liability insurance for community gardens as a stop-gap measure until a more sustainable plan can be developed.  At this time, it seems that we can insure these sites for approximately $125 per garden per year.  With an administrative fee, this would mean something like $200 for the gardeners, still a very large jump from $35.  In order to demonstrate that The Green Institute has an insurable interest in the garden, we will lease the lot from the property owner for a minimal fee.  Gardens are owned by a variety of entities, including the city, the county, churches, schools, non-profits, and a railroad. 


I am looking for input from other cities on how to make this work.  I am hopeful that you all have experiences from which I can learn.  Anything you can share would be helpful.  Here are a few of the questions I need to answer for my board of directors:


*Will we need to enforce a “safety policy” regarding use of tillers, gas mowers, weed whips, chainsaws, chippers, etc?


*Will we need to require organic gardening practices?


*How can we enforce these requirements?


*Will we need to have gardeners sign release forms?


*Will we need to keep a list of who is allowed to enter the garden?


*What happens when unknown people enter the garden?


*Will the discovery of uninsured activity in the gardens affect coverage of other sites?


*Will claims on these policies increase premiums across the rest of my organization?


Thank you for your attention.  This crisis affects more than one in four community gardens in the Twin Cities.

As you can see from this list of questions, the learning curve ahead of us is steep.  If you have samples of contracts, policies, or other documents that you cannot send electronically, please feel free to use the fax number listed below.




Corrie Zoll, Program Director

GreenSpace Partners

A program of The Green Institute

2801 21st Avenue South, Suite 110

Minneapolis, MN 55407

Telephone 612-278-7119

Facsimile 612-278-7101




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