People can be injured, and in rare cases killed, by falling coconuts. The evidence for the danger has largely been investigated by Peter Barss, who noted a high rate of injuries while working as a hospital director in Papua New Guinea during the 1980s. In 1989, Barss published a study in the Journal of Trauma titled “Injuries Due to Falling Coconuts.”
In Barss’ study, he analyzes the force at which coconuts falling out of a tree might hit a person, and cites the number of people injured by coconuts admitted to his hospital. It is true that a person can be injured, and in some cases killed, by a coconut because the trees are tall, and the velocity of the coconut accelerates as it falls. This could essentially be the equivalent of dropping a coconut, in many cases, off a ten-story building.
Passers-by could have concussions, and it would be theoretically possible for a direct hit to cause death. This would be especially the case if a small child or infant were hit. Most people do not suffer acute injuries from a falling coconut, however, and Barss’ study reports no deaths.
A statement from George Burgess in 2002 regarding the danger of coconuts stirred the pot, however. Burgess, employed by the Florida Museum of Natural History, stated that people were 15 times as likely to get killed by falling coconuts than to receive a fatal bite from a shark. The trouble with Burgess’ statement is that his information has not been verified. Barss claims that the coconut death toll worldwide cited by Burgess, of 150 a year, is accurate or even too low, but he lacks the documentation to prove his claims as well.
Even though the numbers may be questionable, it is undoubtedly foolish to sleep or rest under a coconut tree. In fact, according to Barss, one should avoid walking under coconut trees when possible. There is potential danger, and there are certainly records of injuries.
In fact, some resorts employ people to knock coconuts out of trees to keep vacationers safe. This is not always done, however, so visitors would have to ask a resort or hotel if they maintain this practice. To be safe, people should avoid the dangers of falling coconuts by staying well away from the trees and simply walk around them.