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 majestic palm is ubiquitous in central and south Florida regions. It’s a very large specimen and can weigh well over a ton.
The plaintiff claimed that while driving into the entrance way of this community, a Royal palm in fact failed and landed on his car. He was lucky to be alive. The car was totaled. The plaintiff alleged significant and serious injuries. He had an eyewitness. Lots of photographs. Reports from doctors legitimizing his injuries. Nothing new here.
In looking at the photographs, I noted two debris fields, one debris field from where the palm tree hit the car and another debris field approximately 20 yards from the first one. Strange. Two debris fields. Hmm. When a tree weighing one ton or more falls onto a car traveling 10 mph, the car tends to stop dead in its tracks. Carrying one ton of weight 50 to 60 feet down the road was an amazing feat. My (hmm) antennas went on full alert.
During the deposition, pictures were presented to me that I had not seen before. There were several pictures of the inside of the incident vehicle. And, for a moment, time seemed to stand still as I noted the remnant parts of a palm tree species inside the vehicle belonged to a different species of palm tree than the incident palm tree.
The palm tree parts inside the incident vehicle were those of the Phoenix Canariensis, or the Canary Island date palm. The alleged palm tree, as previously discussed, was a Royal palm tree. Hmm.
After deposition, it was discovered that the eyewitness was, in fact, the claimant’s aunt. Hmm. And the incident pictures were provided by his uncle. Hmm.
I was told that the matter settled shortly after my deposition. Being left to my own devices, I can only assume that the remnant parts of one species, being inconsistent with the remnant parts of the alleged incident species, might have somehow played a role in plaintiff’s decision to withdraw his claim.