$5.97 Million Settlement in Motorcycle Crash Caused by Overgrown Roadway Bushes
A motorcyclist who sustained permanent injuries to his neck, back, and left arm after being hit by a car obtained a $5,970,000.00 recovery against a landscaping company, various governmental entities, and another driver. The case was brought against the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), the City of Oakland Park, Landscaping Service Professionals, Inc., and Sharon McLeod.
Rick Ellsley of The Ellsley Law Firm in Plantation represented Alexander Ramos in the case. He said that on March 13, 2018 around 10:00pm, Ramos was driving his Suzuki motorcycle westbound in the far left lane on Oakland Park Boulevard and was approaching NE 10th Avenue. At that same time, Sharon McLeod was driving her Mitsubishi sedan eastbound. McLeod made a left turn in front of Ramos causing the crash. The police report indicated that McLeod was attempting a U-turn, but did not see the motorcycle before pulling out in front of it.
Ellsley determined that the landscaping on the median in front of McLeod had grown to 2 feet 11 inches. The state code allows for a maximum height of 2 feet. Ellsley uncovered documents that established that FDOT owned and was responsible for maintaining the median. FDOT had transferred the maintenance responsibility by contracting with the City of Oakland Park, who, in turn, paid Landscape Service Professionals, Inc. to maintain the median.
Ellsley worked with an accident reconstruction engineer and obtained eyewitness testimony. The witnesses testified they saw Ramos exceeding the speed limit, but not greatly. The engineer recreated the incident and concluded that the heights of the shrubs and bushes on the median partially obstructed the line of sight for each driver. The police found McLeod at fault for failing to yield the right of way and that action was determined to have caused the crash. The reported noted that the median landscaping was a possible factor.
Within a few weeks of the crash, McLeod’s insurance carrier paid its liability limits of $10,000.00 so that she would ultimately be released from the case. Throughout the year, Ellsley litigated the case until very recently when $5,960,000.00 was paid by the insurance carrier for the landscaping company. This settlement released governmental entities as well.
Counsel for Landscape Service Professionals, Inc., Kory Ickler, of Garrison Yount in Tampa, had no comment by deadline. However, court papers show that the landscaping company asserted in its defense to the case that Ramos was speeding, that McLeod was careless in making the U-turn in front of Ramos, and that the condition of the landscaping on the median did not cause the crash.
According to Ellsley, roadway vision obstructions are quite common. He said he has handled numerous cases just like this one because many of the chosen landscaping features grow very quickly in South Florida. “The landscape maintenance companies rarely measure the shrub or hedge heights before leaving the job. Unfortunately, overgrown landscaping ends up obstructing the vision of drivers in both directions.” said Ellsley.
Ellsley noted that as a result of a similar lawsuit he successfully prosecuted 8 years ago, (which occurred near Hollywood on U.S. 441 just south of Stirling Road), the FDOT and the Seminole Tribe of Florida finally decided to completely remove the bushes that blocked the view of the drivers in that case. The bushes were replaced with grass. Ellsley pointed to the Florida Highway Landscape Guide issued by FDOT and suggested that, “Decision-makers, landscape architects, and urban planners should choose grass, and not trees, hedges, bushes, or plants for the medians because grass is a much safer alternative for motorists.”
All settlement monies have been paid. Dismissal of the case is pending. Broward County Circuit Court Judge John Bowman has jurisdiction.