Fat Cats and Honesty

Insurance, Legal
One commodity weighs heaviest among all professionals: the truth. Nothing separates success in the professional marketplace and private relationships quite like the truth. Synonymous with honor, integrity, and character, the truth and a reputation for telling it are priceless, except when the truth interferes with a constructed reality based on miscues driven by deception. In this instance, I was having what is irreverently known as “A Coming to Jesus Meeting” with my client, an attorney. Seasoned and successful attorneys retain an expert well in advance of filing suit. The expert, supposedly, teams with the attorney, and perhaps other experts to inform the attorney regarding the strength or weakness of the case. Two things can go wrong during this exercise: One, the expert isn’t expert enough in the process or in…
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Signs, Signs: Everywhere There are Signs!

Insurance, Legal
In this matter, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), the Florida Outdoor Advertising Association (FOAA), and Citizens for a Scenic Florida (Citizens) were caught in a quagmire of legal lawsuits regarding the appraisal of trees in front of billboards along Florida’s scenic highways. In Florida, there is a legal right of a billboard owner to have 1000 feet of clear sightline distances. These clear sightline distances may be divided into whatever visual corridor the billboard owner desires; however, most owners of billboards opt for 1000 continuous linear feet of clear sightline corridors. If a tree or other vegetation obscures the face of the billboard within that sightline distance, the owner of the billboard has a right to prune or remove the subject tree, provided an application to do so is…
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The Cart Before the Horse

Insurance, Legal
This insurance claim came from an insured in a metropolitan city. A construction company installing a new sidewalk accidentally (is it ever any other way?) hit the limb of a 17-inch-diameter tree growing in the cutout of the sidewalk. The limb tore and broke off. The guardian angel for trees in the city inspected the damage and declared it to be irreparable. This angel/arborist then went on to complete a formula that established the value of the subject tree. The math clearly demonstrated that the tree was worth $85,000. The insurance agent and the guys upstairs didn’t know what to do with this number or the claim. They knew they needed a forensic arborist, so they asked me to have a look. Formulas are always an intriguing venue for establishing value. Most formulas,…
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Mrs. Stanford’s Pecan Pie

Mrs. Stanford’s Pecan Pie

Legal
And so it came to pass that I found myself at trial. Not just any trial. This was eminent domain, the government’s, or any condemning authority’s, right to take our property if it can demonstrate the taking serves the most good for the most people. The authority retains experts to assess the value of what shall be taken to ensure that the offer is just compensation in the marketplace. Article 5, the Bill of Rights. Of course, one side’s opinion of just compensation differs from the other side’s idea of just compensation. And that is where the rubber meets the road, and where the mischief begins in many situations. In this matter, I was retained by the property owner’s attorney. At issue was the value of pecan trees in a grove…
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Dead Trees DO Talk

Dead Trees DO Talk

Legal
11:30 p.m. Had you been there on the wooded hill illuminated by the full moon, you would have definitely heard the noise. But you probably would never, ever have imagined its source. Something like a muffled groan but intuitively not human. Time would pass and you would have filed the origination of the sound back into the Rolodex of your mind. 11:45 p.m.  Now there’s another sound, a high-pitched sound. Again non-human but unmistakably present in the still night. The sound repeats itself again, then again. You could search the landscape for something that was making these sounds, but you would find nothing because nothing was there except the trees. And to that point, it was the sound of a tree slowly splitting and giving way under massive decay at the base…
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Consider the Evidence from All Sides Before Passing Judgement on the Claimant’s Validity

Consider the Evidence from All Sides Before Passing Judgement on the Claimant’s Validity

Legal
Joe Samnik, Consulting Forensic Arborist If I’m going to be honest with myself, I must admit that one of the components associated with my mental Rolodex boils down to these questions: Does this claim have merit?  Is the claimant being honest and straightforward with regard to his claim?  One of the things that piqued my curiosity when entering the accident scene itself was the serenity juxtaposed to the landscape. It was a quiet site in nature. The speed limit was 10 miles an hour. And I observed that speed limit not because it was posted but because of the calmness and peculiar layout of the entry drive. Next to the entry drive was the remnant portion of a large palm tree species called the Royal Palm tree (Roystonea regia). This…
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What I have learned as an expert witness in over 800 litigation assignments

What I have learned as an expert witness in over 800 litigation assignments

Legal
I have had the good fortune of being named as an expert witness in over 800 litigation matters. I have been qualified in federal, civil, criminal, small claims and eminent domain courts of law. I have testified to tree values, wrongful deaths, personal injuries, eminent domain and product liability. My representation is nearly 50/50 plaintiff vs. defendant. I have traveled across the nation, and I have witnessed some remarkable events. I haven’t seen it all yet; however, what I have seen has been quite an educational experience. Knowledge is, after all is said and done, what one learns after knowing it all for 20 years, or so. In preparation for an upcoming litigation assignment, I fell to reflecting on what I have learned during my tenure as an expert witness. These bits of empirical knowledge…
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