World

Lawyer – NBC 6 South Florida

Matthew Wilson still vividly remembers the fruit from the citrus trees that used to sit in the backyard of his childhood home.

“You remember key lime tarts,” he said. “Fresh-squeezed orange juice in the morning, grapefruits when we wanted them, we just had to pick them off the tree.”

Matt, who works at NBC 6 and grew up in Miami-Dade, also remembers the end of those trees.

“I remember my dad was upset that they cut down his trees,” he said. “And he didn’t think they were sick, but they had to cut them down anyway.”

The removal of the trees was part of the state’s citrus canker eradication program of the early 2000s.

“For every infected tree that was destroyed in Dade County between January 2000 and January 2006, they destroyed 10 more uninfected trees,” said Bobby Gilbert, an attorney who spent most of his 36-year career seeking compensation in name of Florida homeowners. impacted by the program.

He says citrus canker was a harmless disease that affected the appearance of citrus and threatened the state’s commercial citrus industry. It was detected in the late 1990s and the state enacted an aggressive campaign to try to stop its spread, cutting down orange, grapefruit, lemon and lime trees in different areas of the state, including South Florida.

“By January 2006, the Department of Agriculture had destroyed about 240,000 healthy, uninfected citrus trees here in Miami-Dade County, most of them in the backyards of homes like yours and mine,” he said. . “Finally, in January 2006, the Department of Agriculture gave up, realizing they couldn’t stop the spread of this disease.”

Some homeowners, upset by what happened, took their fight to court and filed lawsuits in counties across the state, including Miami-Dade County.

“We went back to Miami-Dade County and tried the case here,” Gilbert said. “And before we go ahead with the final judgment… we reached an agreement, which is what resulted in the issuance of these payments.”

To qualify for a payment, Gilbert says you must have owned the property at the time the trees were destroyed in Miami-Dade County, between January 1, 2000 and the end of the program in January 2006. If you used your tree for commercial purposes or if your tree was actually infected with citrus canker, you are not eligible for compensation under the settlement, he said.

Gilbert said individual property owners did not have to register for the class action to be included. He said they used state records to track those who qualify.

“We sent checks totaling about $63 million for 97,000 checks,” he said. “The amount of the checks is based on the number of trees. Each tree has the same value, so the amount per tree, the gross amount, is $297.26.”

You may get less money if you accepted any form of compensation the state previously offered, he said.

“I looked at it and said, is this legit?” Matt told about the letter and check that arrived at his house in November.

The check was made out to both of his late parents, the owners of the house when the trees were destroyed.

“We went online and looked at the website,” he said. “We sent a letter asking if the check could be reissued.”

He said they needed to send a copy of his father’s death certificate and documentation showing that Matt was his father’s beneficiary.

“They said they’ll rewrite a new check in six to eight weeks,” Matt said.

Matt now lives in his childhood home with his own family. He plans to use the money to plant new fruit trees there.

“I definitely want the same things that I had,” he said. “I want grapefruit. My wife uses a lot of limes, so I want some limes and key limes.”

If you received one of these settlement checks in the mail and tossed it away, or if the check was made out to a deceased family member and you are the payee, Gilbert says to reach out so they can reissue the check.

The phone number you can call is 1-833-630-1411 or click here.