They seem so innocent, lined up around town like shy boys at a dance. But make no mistake: The trees are out to get us. One of them, a sycamore...
They seem so innocent, lined up around town like shy boys at a dance.
But make no mistake: The trees are out to get us.
One of them, a sycamore, reached over the road at Seattle Center last year and grabbed a delivery truck. When the driver, a Kent man, tried to escape, the tree dropped a branch onto his head, giving him a concussion.
What could he do but sue the city?
Last year, a spindly but clever sapling that lives near Union Station got in the way of a man who tripped and fell into the tree’s sidewalk planter pit. He too has sued the city.
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Then there are Seattle’s more than 100,000 street trees, who, despite feigning impassive poses, are feverishly working to attack us from below.
As shown in a story Monday by The Seattle Times’ Erik Lacitis (“The root of the sidewalk problem“), the roots of these trees are buckling sidewalks around town, slamming unassuming pedestrians to the ground. Sixty-seven people have been so battered navigating tree-destroyed sidewalks in the past three years that the city has paid out more than a half-million dollars in damage claims.
“You shouldn’t have to worry about trees and tree planters when you’re walking about,” the man who fell near Union Station said in a court deposition last fall.
Um, aren’t we called the Emerald City because we have a lot of trees here?
I know some of these people were seriously hurt, so it’s low of me to ridicule them. But it irks me that people sue when they get hurt by a tree.
And it irks me even more that society tolerates it.
There’s no data on Seattle tree litigation, but San Francisco reports that half of its costs for maintaining the city’s trees now go to settling lawsuits.
I admit I have strong feelings on this topic because I was once sued over a tree.
A former neighbor in West Seattle alleged that roots from my tree had clogged his sewer line. His toilet overflowed and he had to spend a weekend in a motel. He also bought a new sewer line.
The suit seemed so frivolous — “You’re suing my tree?” — that I implored my insurance company to fight my neighbor. Instead they paid him $18,000.
I know we’re all responsible for maintaining our trees, but the law seems to have spun out of whack. Short of cutting my tree down, how could I have stopped its roots from growing even if I had wanted to?
It’s almost like we’ve come to regard trees as humanlike neighbors. If you run into a tree, or trip on its roots, it’s not your fault. Blame the tree.
That’s what the Seattle Center delivery driver did, in a still-unresolved case. An arborist who examined the accident scene concluded the driver had, of course, plowed into the tree.
“The initial claim by the driver that the branch merely fell, unprovoked, is entirely groundless,” the arborist wrote.
That’s how I feel about the trees. They are unprovokable. Stolid. They ought to be immune from lawsuits.
Yes, they can fall on you or trip you or wriggle into your plumbing. But I’m pretty sure they don’t mean anything by it.
Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or firstname.lastname@example.org.