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Settlement reached in landscape suit
Mixup led to toppled trees
browne circle 10-28-09
Stumps like this one line Browne Circle. Three families whose trees were mistakenly cut down earlier this year recently settled. - photo by Jim Dean
It may not replace 30-year-old hardwood trees, but a small group of homeowners has reached a settlement with the company that mistakenly destroyed their landscape.

“We just wanted to settle and move forward and work on planting new trees to try to get our yard back in the shape it was in,” said Jenni Hilton, who agreed to the deal Friday.

“It’s bittersweet. I think we’re all glad it’s over, but ... I don’t think we’ll ever forget what happened.”

It’s been about six months since W.L. Hailey subcontractor M&M Labors cut down trees at homes along Browne Circle.

Crews were making way for a 48-inch-wide pipeline running from Lake Lanier to the city of Cumming’s water treatment facility. The effort was part of a city project that will enable it to withdraw water from as deep as 1,020 feet above sea level.

But some confusion over the plan resulted in clearing personal property instead of county-owned land.

Attorney Stuart Teague was retained by Hilton and husband Robbie, along with their neighbors, the Henderson and Ballone families.

The Hiltons and Roger and Shelia Henderson settled for $20,750 each, and Jerry and Susan Ballone, who lost one tree, agreed to $4,000.

“I think my clients probably could have gotten more if they’d been insistent on it, but they really just wanted to get it resolved,” Teague said.

He said there is a fourth homeowner with pending litigation, but he’s not representing that family.

Jared Imler, W.L. Hailey project manager, said the settlement costs were decided by attorneys.

With the litigation fees involved in taking the case to court, Imler said the settlement is “just an economic decision.”

The Hiltons lost five hardwood and pine trees, and are looking at fast-growing maples and some new hardwoods for their yard.

While the settlement was less than she was expecting, Hilton said it was enough to cover the cost to remove five stumps from her home and replace them with new trees.

“That’s why we decided to settle,” she said. “We know we can’t truly be compensated for the loss of those old trees.”