Coconuts, Palm Trees, & Personal Injury: Landscape Architects Beware!
Palm trees are the poster child for anything tropical. They muster the emotions of going on vacation to an expensive island where grapes will be popped into the visitor’s mouth.
Rum drinks and sunsets.
Parrots and blue waters.
And personal injury, and lawsuits.
No other regional nuisance is more likely to produce legal conflicts than the palm tree, especially its fruit and its fronds. Synonymous with coconuts is the term “Bombs away!” Synonymous with self-cleaning palm trees is the term “Timber!”
Coconuts are more easily managed as a maintenance issue than self-cleaning palm trees, which are broken down into the different species of representation. The granddaddy of them all is the Royal Palm tree, which causes more-serious personal injury, and yes, death, often dropping a 60+ pound frond onto an unsuspecting target below.
Plaintiff’s attorneys first look for a duty to inspect the subject palm tree for dead fronds. If a duty exists to inspect, as is most often the case, the outcome of the legal dispute is almost predetermined.
But what about the duty to warn the end-user? The person who is going to own the palm tree. Is that person possess the knowledge to know that his new Royal Palm tree, or other self-cleaning palm tree, can and will shed fronds unexpectedly?
As to constructive knowledge, that knowledge which you knew or should have known, the answer would be, yes. Yes, the owner of the tree should have known that his palm tree was self-cleaning. And attorneys have no issue with constructive knowledge. But sometimes juries do. All of this is first directed to the landscape architect (LA). Does the LA have a duty or a responsibility to notify his client that a ticking time bomb has been specified in their landscape? In the often mistake-riddled Landscape Notes of the LA, should a comment have been made that there are certain palm tree species that drop their fronds without notice, or very little prior notice. And that species of tree has been specified for installation in their landscape.
Precisely who to name in a lawsuit is of great importance to the attorney. Landscape architects are becoming more frequently named as defendants in personal injury and wrongful death matters.
If you are a landscape architect, how would you defend against the accusation that you specified a self-cleaning palm tree that would shed 60- or 80-pound fronds onto unsuspecting targets below?
Landscape maintenance contractors have the very same issues, but they are magnified because the landscape maintenance contractor is on the job 12 months of the year, with a written contract, in areas that geographically populate palm trees.
The Green industry is fraught with legal landmines of serious consequence. Career-ending consequences may well be in-store for those who do not pause to think about the realities of their professional decisions. Take the time to review your landscape notes or your contractual obligations to your client. There is more to think about and be concerned with than you may realize.