Jury gives $11.5 million to homeowners whose trees were cut down

Chris Rizo May 8, 2008, 4:00pm

Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (Legal Newsline) - A Florida jury has ordered the state to pay $11.5 million as compensation to 58,225 residents of Broward County after the state cut down all the citrus trees in their yards as part of a disease-prevention plan.

The award, which amounts to $86 per tree, was significantly lower than attorneys for the South Florida homeowners has sought.

The homeowners had asked for compensation ranging from $280 for a healthy six-foot tree to $930 for a healthy 10-foot tree.

Robert Gilbert, the homeowners' attorney, estimated the eradicated trees were worth $350 to $400 apiece, or a maximum of about $50 million.

Authorities in Broward County cut down 133,720 trees in an effort to insulate the state's commercial citrus industry from an outbreak of citrus canker disease.

Broward County Circuit Judge Ronald Rothschild previously ruled that the homeowners were entitled to "full compensation" for destruction of their trees.

The judge left it to the jury to decide how much compensation they should receive.

After two days of deliberations the 12-member jury decided on the $11.5 million compromise verdict.

The case is the first of five class-action lawsuits in the Sunshine State seeking compensation for more than 577,000 residential citrus trees destroyed in the state's citrus canker eradication program.

The other cases are pending in Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Lee, and Orange Counties.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo by e-mail at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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