I have been an avid cyclist my whole life and on countless occasions I have come to intersections which are obstructed by the foliage of adjoining property owners. This is common on city streets but is also a common problem with shopping centers, commercial office buildings and strip malls. Maintaining sightlines is critical to safety. But all too often property owners turn a blind eye to the impact their landscaping choices and maintenance (or lack thereof) have upon others. Now a recent decision out of Florida gives property owners reason to stop and think about their behavior.
A South Florida jury has rendered a $12 million verdict against their South Florida condo association and management company for failing to follow regulations which could have prevented the death of their 9 year old son who was killed while riding his bike in the complex. Reports indicate that the boy, Andrew Curtis, was riding his bike with his father on the premises of the Jupiter, Fla., condo “Villas on the Green” when the boy was hit by a car driven by another condo resident, Ms. Helen Bygel. There was no dispute that Ms. Bygel was negligent and was responsible for the boy’s death. However Andrew’s parents, Tracy Curtis and Andre Kovacs, wanted full justice, and brought suit against the condo association and management company, M.M.I. of the Palm Beaches. The suit was based on the fact that these companies failed to follow applicable traffic regulations by installing stop signs at the proper height and maintaining hedges to preserve visibility.
The family’s attorney Greg Barnhart, Esq. of the Palm Beach firm Searcy, Denney, Scarola, Barnhart & Shipley was quoted after the verdict saying, “The condo management company blatantly ignored traffic codes.” Barnhart argued that “For years, they chose to overlook simple fixes – like maintaining safe hedge height and placing stop signs within driver sight lines. The building driveway became the scene of a terrible tragedy because such basic common-sense safeguards were neglected.”
Following a full trial, the jury rightfully agreed with Mr. Barnhart and found that the accident and this tragic loss of life was the result of the combined negligence of the management company, the condo association and the driver, Ms. Bygel.