By Al Dozier
Irmo Town officials are feeling the shockwaves from the recently announced $3.6 million settlement of a lawsuit brought by the parents of a 3-year-old boy killed three years ago by a falling tree limb in the new Community Park of Irmo.
The child, Jacoby Latta, was playing at a church picnic when the tree limb fell and struck him in the head May 31, 2014, just a few weeks after the new park had opened. The lawsuit was unexpected and came as a surprise to local officials who did not see how the town could have prevented the tree limb from falling.
Town officials reached out to support the family following the accident by providing a special memorial gathering at the park. The town placed a permanent marker and garden in the park in memory of the child.
The communications with the family and the town were positive, not negative after the accident, according to town officials.
“We didn‘t think they would sue,” said Councilwoman Kathy Condom.
Condom said the town routinely inspects trees in the park. There was no indication that there were any problems, though she recalls there was a storm the night before the incident that could have contributed to the incident.
But Condom said she wants the town to consider additional measures that would assure such an incident would not happen again.
Mayor Hardy King said he was surprised by the wrongful death lawsuit filed by Stuart and Xaveira Latta. He describes the limb falling as an “act of God.”
The town did not play a role in the litigation, which was handled by insurance representatives.
Companies involved in creating the park failed to remove vegetation that “posed a threat or danger,” the parents said in their lawsuit. The parents also alleged that town officials ignored complaints prior to the tragedy about limbs falling near the playground.
The town of Irmo is not coming out too bad, when all of the settlements are considered.
King said Irmo will have to shell out $400,000, but the rest of the money is coming from other companies targeted in the lawsuit because of their roles in the park construction. They include: Grimball, Cotteril & Associates; Clearwater Co.; Barrs Recreation; Dennis Corp.; Reese Construction; and CBG Inc.
King said the $400,000 allocation from Irmo is covered by insurance, but the town will see an increase in premiums of about $6,000 a year for five years.
Councilman Barry Walker Sr. said he is puzzled by the process that led to such a large settlement.
“They sued anybody that did anything to the park,” he said.
Walker said he wished the family well, but fails to see how the town of Irmo could have prevented the incident.