A Threat to Garden Tours?
November 13th, 2012
An insurance claim and threatened lawsuit at a home garden tour in Connecticut this summer has ended a two-decade-old event and may have a chilling effect on future garden tours elsewhere.
An Avon, Ct., woman named Chrissie D’Esopo had been opening her garden for tours for 20 years to raise money for various charities. She’s raised $175,000 over that time, primarily for a local women’s shelter.
After a woman hurt her ankle on a brick walkway during this summer’s tour, D’Esopo says she’s going to be forced to stop doing tours.
Here’s why, according to an Oct. 8 article in the Hartford Courant newspaper:
“More than 40,000 visitors trekked through (D’Esopo’s) gardens and home without incident, until this summer. An Avon woman fell during a July garden tour, hurt her ankle and filed an insurance claim against D’Esopo and the two non-profits benefiting from that day’s tour. She fell on a brick walkway that’s flush with the grass.
“Despite the insurance companies’ willingness to cover all the medical expenses for the woman, her husband, who wasn’t on the tour, has threatened to sue for his own ‘pain and suffering’” linked to his wife’s hurt ankle, D’Esopo said.
“’I risk losing my house by having garden tours,’ said D’Esopo, who makes her living as a painter of interiors and faux finishes, but takes four months off in late spring and summer to devote 12 hours a day to planting, watering and tending her gardens.”
(The whole article can be found here.)
D’Esopo says she’ll continue to let individuals come and see her gardens, but planned events are over.
Cries of injustice were almost universal — from the charities that will lose a key funding source to the many citizens who just enjoyed something nice that someone in the community was doing.
Besides giving garden tours, D’Esopo allowed couples to get married in her yard, nursing-home residents to take private tours and numerous bridal parties, prom-goers and high school seniors to take pictures.
It’s sad, really, that one incident might end all of this. And as an official in the Connecticut Horticultural Society said in the same Oct. 8 article, the experience might discourage other would-be tour-givers to just say no.
“If it does happen, it’s going to be a real tragedy,” said Steve Silk, a CHS past president. “Most of the local garden clubs and libraries and other civic organizations make a lot of money off garden tours… What it represents is a real loss of funds for all kinds of public good, whether it’s scholarships, development of public gardens, charity or inspiration for gardeners.”
I saw a photo of the brick walkway where the woman tripped this summer. It was a little uneven but nothing that looked like an obvious safety hazard. To me, it seems like an honest accident — the kind of thing that can happen anywhere if enough people walk through over enough time.
I think what gets most people in this case is the husband’s threat of a lawsuit. I’m not sure if any lawyer would take the case — or win anything, for that matter — but the mere threat did the real damage.
It seems to me that paying the woman’s medical bills and saying, “I’m terribly sorry for the accident,” is a fair way to settle it.
Unfortunately, when accidents happen, some people see money-making opportunities. They’ll look not at what’s fair but to whomever has insurance or deep pockets (or both) and develop an argument designed to cough up a settlement.
Defendants often settle because it’s cheaper and easier than going through a court case — even if they were to win in the end.
As a former long-time consumer writer, I’ve certainly seen lots of cases where claims and lawsuits were entirely warranted. When someone or some company is reckless and/or disregards reasonable safety precautions, legal action can be the quickest way to fix things.
On the other hand, some people abuse the justice system for their own gain. I’m not saying that’s the case here… the names of the aggrieved garden visitors haven’t even been disclosed.
But the point is, people can do nasty things to one another on all sides of the fence — and when they do, it can cause harm well beyond each isolated case.
That’s my main concern.
Staging a home garden tour already is a lot of work, but people do it because it’s usually a way to raise money for a charity, a garden-club scholarship or some other good cause.
At the same time, people share their love of gardening, learn from one another and encourage others to improve their properties.
I hope this case doesn’t start us down the road to losing those kind of community pluses.
What we don’t need is another reason to stop doing nice things.