Late Afternoon in Savannah’s Urban Garden.
A Tale of Two Cities
The true Story.
Looking at our City parks and squares and then riding on streets like Bee Road makes it is clear that the City has 2 standards for the care of our City's trees..
One standard for the Historic district where 12 million tourist visits per year and billions of dollars of revenues are generated.
A second standard is for areas such as Bee Road.
Don't the Citizens on Bee Road and White Bluff Road and other areas of town deserve the same safe conditions as tourist receive?
At 75 to 90 pounds per square foot, large limbs, like the subject limb, is equivalent to a car or truck hanging over our city streets.
The City of Savannah clearly was negligent in their lack of care.
The City knew or should have known (the legal standard)... the city had 100s of opportunities to discover the dangerous and “poor” condition of this 70 foot limb.
Here are 7 examples:
1) The city failed to prune this tree when a limb failed in 2007 and employees visited the tree. The park and tree department’s own policies and procedures and the standard in the industry are you always prune a limb stub after a limb failure.
100% of the time an un-pruned limb stub results in rot, decay and insects in an un-pruned limb. Such things cause a tree to go into decline. Don Gardner said this at trial.
The City’s records show that in 2007 they picked up the large, fallen limb.
The City violated their own policy by failing to prune the limb AND do a tree "risk inspection". They were already standing at the tree.
Safety rules have a purpose.
2) The park and tree department’s employees admitted that they drove past the subject tree 100s of times over the three years from July 17, 2007 to July 2, 2010 when the limb fell on Shanta Greene.
They failed to see the large, dangerous rotten limb stub from 2007 limb failure, which should have triggered a tree risk assessment.
3) One bee Road resident said trucks; including City trucks, scraped the low hanging dangerous limb when they drove past this tree.
The tree was knocking on their truck's roofs saying “hey look at me”.
4) The tree was engulfed in vines for decades.
One vine was 4 inches in diameter and had existed for 10 to 14 years. Vines are not good for “shade intolerant” Live Oaks and the vines can hide decay and rot.
5) The City again visited the tree in 2008 when they installed a sidewalk and destroyed some roots in the tree’s critical root zone.
A construction inspector and a park and tree department arborist was involved in selecting the location of the side walk and
viewed the excavation and concreting of the side walk.
The City failed again to inspect this tree during the sidewalk installation in violation of their own policies and procedures.
Any time a sidewalk is installed in a tree’s “critical root zone” the standard is you do a “tree risk assessment”.
The side walk was only 16 inches from the base of the tree.
The City also could have "bridged" the side walk over the roots. They didn't. They could have used pavers, they didn't.
They put this tree in decline and it sat like a ticking time bomb.
6) Again in 2010 the City had a park and tree employee at this tree doing an inventory and he rated the tree as “good” even though the City’s own hired expert said the tree was in “poor condition.
The City relied on this untrained layman, instead of sending one of their own arborist.
7) Finally on July 2, 2010, only three hours before this horrible event, park and tree employees working only a few houses from this tree drove under the limb and again failed to see the obvious dangers defects and the massive amount of vines.
The tree had so much rot and decay it was infested for years with carpenter ants. Carpenter ants only live in decayed wood. An inspection would easily have disclosed this dangerous limb.
The City will lose this case no matter how many times it goes to trial (an appeal) and the City has exposure for future such occurrences.
Prior City leaders chose to exempt the City departments (such as streets and sidewalks, sewer and utility departments) from the City’s own Tree Protection Ordinance and has allowed City departments to dig through our trees “critical root zones” on a daily basis.
Live oaks are usually Hurricane resistant, however, this harm to our tree's roots is making our trees less stable and more susceptible to failure, even in a mild tropical storm. This was testified to at trial by Don Gardner and Kevin Brown. The current director Jerry Fleming can't deny it. In fact he admits most of it.
The park and tree director is responsible for 85,000 trees, 5 cemeteries, 80 city parks, 60 monuments and 24 squares.
Really? Why was a full time position at City Cemeteries Department given the added monuments, squares, parks and trees?
The park and tree department doesn't even have a construction inspector. No one visits City construction to protect our trees.
The new City leaders can make the City departments comply with this tree protection ordinance and hire a construction inspector.
Prior City leaders choose to run off the former Park and Tree director, Don Gardner, and to abandon an effective program of preventative tree management under The City of Savannah’s Park and Tree Department’s Master tree Plan.
Don Gardner spent 4+ years create the program, inventorying all the city's trees and 12 years implementing the street by street and tree by tree maintenance.
No full tree inventory has been done in Savannah since 1986.
The city has had no written systematic schedule of tree maintenance or plan since 2000. For over 13 years!
Every expert and tree witnesses at trial said a proactive program is safer than a reactive program.
The current 311 "call in" system is a reactive program.
The City’s 311 system relies on employees of the park and tree department who happen to see a tree defect, to call 311 and report it. This random effort while trying to drive a car is not effective and results in many trees not receiving maintenance for decades.
The standards in the industry are clear that a live oak should be pruned every 5 to 7 years. Out side the historic district that doesn't happen.
Some of our 100+ year old trees have NEVER been pruned.
The 311 system also relies on City employees outside the park and tree department such as police, firemen, street workers and citizens to call 311 to report dangers. Non arborist are obligated to find defects?
The 311 is less safe than the preventative maintenance program implemented under former director Don Gardner.
Don Gardner had his crews go street by street and tree by tree pruning and caring for our trees. This no longer occurs, since 2000.
Any time someone is faced with 2 ways to accomplish something, the less safe method is never acceptable. 311 is a less safe choice.
To take a less safe path needlessly endangers the public.
The Primary purpose of our government is public safety.
Mayor Otis Johnson deprived the City of Savannah of the opportunity to learn these Park and tree Department deficiencies when he interrupted me and prevented the City Council and the public from seeing part two of our presentation at City Hall. The past Mayor went back on his word to allow me to make our presentation. He turned his back on Shanta. He became the subject of Mark Streeter’s satire cartoon. He caused this lawsuit to proceed.
Please see the presentation to the City here: http://youtu.be/iAEVsVJVtkk
We have tried numerous times to get the City to settle this case and to help to ease Shanta’s suffering. An appearance at City Council and two mediations she was discarded and treated disrespectful.
One of the City’s attorneys hovered over her telling her that her lawyers were wrong and would lose, that the City would never pay her, she would loss at trial and he would tie this up for years in appeals.
Shanta and her attorneys have faced down every attack by attorneys for the City. The trial is over and this matter should return to the City’s Attorney and the Mayor and Aldermen.
The City’s attorneys have repeatedly told Shanta and her attorneys that the City council would wait and pay what a jury felt her case was worth.
The jury has spoken; will the City now keep its word and pay her verdict.
Or will our City once again violate Shanta’s trust and keep fighting and keep delaying justice?
We are grateful for the mayor attending the trial and her professionalism and civility throughout the case.
The Mayor attended 9 days of trial and has now seen information never before presented to the City Council. She heard testimony about the lack of a systematic, written, preventative maintenance plan by the City of Savannah to care for our trees.
It has been a long hard fought battle and Shanta Green and her legal team are gearing up for the next phase.
We are preparing post-trial motions. We plan to pursue all legal recourse that is available for our clients.
Included in our plans, we will ask the Court for sanctions against the City for causing the trial to be greatly extended by failing to answer the admissions contained in depositions by the City’s own witnesses. The costs in proving those facts are into the hundreds of thousands.
We will also seek other remedies including sanctions in what we believe was direct violations of the Judge’s pretrial orders.
We are sure that:
1) The City will need to post a bond for the Verdict amount during appeal.
2) Post Judgment interest of 6.5% will accrue against the City during any appeal at $65,000.00 per month.
3) We believe that there are no real issues for appeal that will allow the City to prevail.
4) Most of the jury charges were standard charges that have survived many trial tests.
5) The evidentiary issues are generally within the trial courts discretion and not reversible by the Appeals Courts.
Should we be wrong and the City prevail, then after the expensive visit to the Court of Appeals and the Georgia Supreme Court the, the best the City can expect on appeal is a new trial. The plaintiff’s promise to do a better job on our second effort.
For the above reasons the plaintiffs are confident that we will collect the full verdict and post judgment interest against the City.
Shanta Greene is a deserving young lady with an amazing spirit.
No one at trial said a single word that would contradict that statement.
She was a hard working mother of two awesome young boys. After her injury her mother died of cancer and she adopted her sister to raise too.
She lost her toes, foot, knee, leg, hip, pelvis, her right buttocks, part of her colon (wears a illostomy bag), injured her kidney, received a brain injury and the the tree mangled her genital and anus areas. She has undergone over 30 surgeries and face 5 to 10 more surgeries.
She has damages of $6 million in medical bills and lost income. She has horrible scarring and endless pain and nausea.
Justice delayed is justice denied.
To allow this matter to come to a close we are respectfully requesting the City to do the following:
1) Not seek an appeal. In exchange we will not file the post judgment motions.
2) Pay the Judgment in full within twelve (12) days. This will avoid additional costs and expense to the City.
An Unprecedented Partnership:
As proof of our sincere intention to make the City safer, if the verdict is paid in full within twelve days Shanta Greene and her legal team shall place $500,000.00 in an escrow account.
These monies are to provide $100,000.00 per year for a salary payable to Dr. Don Gardner to be hired for 5 years at $100,000.00 per year. Don Gardner shall be allowed by the City to re-implement his preventative maintenance plan and the City Council shall formally adopt the Master tree Plan (with any updates by Don Gardner). Should Don Gardner not accept the position the funds would revert to Shanta Greene.
THE PURPOSE OF A LAW SUIT:
The purpose of a lawsuit is for the responsible party to pay for the harms and losses they cause through negligence. Not for the victims or the federal government to bear the burden.
YOUR WORD IS YOUR BOND:
The City said "we will only pay if a jury tells us to pay."
After 9 days of trial, The jury has spoken.
It has been three years, it is time for the City to keep their word and pay their bill.