Well, turns out, it's a fairly common mistake people make.
Peter Aspinall, 64, had been asked to prune a sycamore tree in the grounds of a hotel, but instead of leaning his ladder against the trunk he placed it against the branch he was hacking down. [...]
Now Mr Aspinall, who had worked at the Egerton House Hotel near Bolton, Lancashire, for just two weeks, is suing them for compensation. (Source)
You see, one must not think that the placement of a ladder is self-evident. There is in fact a lot of technique involved, and pruning must not be left to the untrained and/or inexperienced. For all of you whose initial reaction was a slight chuckle of disbelief, the rest of the article offers further enlightenment as to the course of events.
[T]he accident happened on July 18, 2008 when Mr Aspinall was helping gardener Alan Ashworth remove the branch because it was shading the lawn.
The men placed their ladder against the branch and Mr Ashworth held the bottom of it while Mr Aspinall climbed up with a bow saw to chop it down.
They did not realise their mistake until the branch finally snapped and Mr Aspinall fell to the ground.
So as you see, there were actually TWO people involved, and neither of them realized that the ladder was badly positioned. I imagine the exchange between the handyman and the gardener to have gone something along these lines:
Gardener: Hey Pete! Can you help me chop off this branch?
Handyman: Sure thing, Al! Which one?
Gardener: This one right there! Look, I'll set up the ladder for you. That branch right there.
Handyman: You sure you want me to saw off this branch? This doesn't look quite right.
Gardener: Don't worry, Pete, I know what I'm doing! It's perfectly safe. Look, I'll even hold the ladder for you!
Handyman: Well, you are the gardener, after all.