BEHOLD the power of a lawsuit — actually, just the threat of a lawsuit.
In Avon, Conn., Chrissie D'Esopo keeps a beautiful home and garden. So beautiful, in fact, that for the past 20 years, people have delighted in touring the grounds. These tours have enriched D'Esopo, an artist and expert gardener, and also benefited the community at large because funds raised from the tours have gone to local charities.
The Interval House, which assists battered women and their families, has been a beneficiary. So too have the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, local museums, the Avon public library and local schools. There have been many others. In all, about $175,000 has been raised through the years for various causes.
Now an injured ankle may change everything.
During a garden tour this summer, an Avon woman fell on a brick pathway outside the house. According to The Hartford Courant, she filed an insurance claim against D'Esopo and the two nonprofit groups that were benefiting from that day's tour.
The insurance companies were willing to cover the woman's medical expenses, but her husband, who didn't take the tour, wasn't satisfied with having the medical bills taken care of. Instead, D'Esopo told the newspaper, he has threatened to sue for — get this — his own “pain and suffering” related to his wife's injury.
The newspaper account didn't say whether the husband had actually secured an attorney to bring the claim. You'd like to think the man would be advised to just accept the insurance money and move on down the garden path, but in this litigious age that's probably asking too much.
Either way, D'Esopo isn't waiting for the other shoe to drop. She's ending the charity functions on her property. “I risk losing my house by having garden tours,” she said.
She will continue gardening because it's a passion, she said, and will continue to let people in the yard to admire her handiwork. “But unfortunately, we can't do it on such a large scale now because of the enormous liability involved.”
Unless something changes, this means no more gourmet dinners — she's produced scores of those through the years for charity — at her place. No more wedding ceremonies on the grounds, no more welcoming of bridal parties and prom-goers who've had their pictures taken among the flora. No more visits by residents of convalescent homes.
For D'Esopo, it's not worth the risk. Her decision will affect a few charities that have folded garden tour revenue into their annual budgets. And it could cause other Connecticut gardeners who allow their property to be used in a similar way to follow suit.
If that were to happen, “it's going to be a real tragedy,” the past president of the Connecticut Horticultural Society told the Courant. “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.”
All that fallout from what used to be called, and considered, an accident. Alas, not anymore.