When Unkempt Landscaping Leads to Liability: Injuries Caused By Obstructed Traffic Control Devices in FloridaThese days, Floridians are spending more and more time on the roadways commuting to and from work and other activities. While we do so, it is always nice to see aesthetically pleasing landscaping. Palm trees and other foliage often enhances the natural beauty surrounding Florida's roadways. But what happens when beautiful landscaping obstructs the view of a traffic light or stop sign and endangers drivers on the road? In that situation, the outcome can be tragic. If you are injured as the result of a collision because you failed to see a stop sign due to unkept shrubbery, do you have any legal recourse? In Florida, the answer is yes.
Consider the following scenario: you are driving down the road and are suddenly t-boned on driver's side of your vehicle. The cause of the collision becomes readily apparent—there was a stop sign that required you to stop and check that the roadways were clear; however, that stop sign was obstructed by foliage growing from a tree planted on the property of a homeowner adjacent to the roadway. So who is to blame for such a situation? Is it the homeowner who allowed the shrubbery to go unchecked? Is it the municipality for failing to take action to correct the situation? While each case varies based on circumstances, both parties could potentially be liable.
In Florida, courts have stated that the users of a public right-of-way have a right to expect that it will not be unreasonably obstructed. Morales v. Costa, 427 So. 2d 297 (Fla. 3d DCA 1983). Accordingly, a private person may be held liable for damages caused by an obstruction upon a public way. Id. If a landowner fails to trim back landscaping that interferes with the public's use and enjoyment of the roadways and causes serious injury to drivers, he/she should be held responsible.
By the same reasoning, the city or county responsible for maintaining its roadways can also be held responsible. The liability of a city or county is based upon the duty to maintain its streets and the adjacent real property in a reasonably safe condition. See Armas v. Metro Dade County, 429 So. 2d 59 (Fla. 3d DCA 1983). The obligation of the city or county includes the duty to repair bumps in the roadway caused by roots from trees that extend from adjacent properties. See Sullivan v. Silver Palm Properties, Inc., 558 So. 2d 409 (Fla. 1990).
In Sullivan, the Supreme Court of Florida recognized that a municipality can be held responsible for injuries caused by a driver who loses control of his vehicle due to bumps in the roadway caused by tree roots. What the Sullivan court refused to do, however, was to attach liability to the landowner of the property where the tree was planted. In doing so, the court held that landowners had no duty to retard the subterranean root growth of its trees. In reaching this conclusion, the court distinguished between the responsibility of a landowner to maintain its landscaping so as to not obstruct traffic devices—a responsibility which comports with sound reasoning—and the burden that would be imposed on a landowner to maintain subterranean root growth.
Contact Dolman Law GroupUnfortunately, while the law requiring landowners to properly maintain their premise is quite clear, often times this obligation goes ignored. The result can lead to hazardous conditions on the roads. If you are injured as the result of an obstructed traffic control device, you need an attorney with the knowledge of this area of the law to assist you in navigating your claim. Issues surrounding determining the liability of the applicable parties can be complex. The attorneys at Dolman Law Group have this knowledge and can help you protect your rights. Call 727-451-6900 for more information.
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Clearwater, FL 33765