Supervisors in San Francisco have approved a $14.5 million settlement involving a 36-year-old woman who was hit by a falling tree branch while sitting on a park bench.
Supervisors in San Francisco have approved a $14.5 million settlement involving a 36-year-old woman who was hit by a falling tree branch while sitting on a park bench and talking with her daughters in a Washington Square Park playground on August 12, 2016. The branch fell from a height of about 50 feet. It was about 12 feet in length, 19 inches in circumference and weighed about 100 pounds. The victim has no memory at all of the branch crashing down. She was conscious, bloody and screaming for help when police arrived. Her daughters, ages five and nine helplessly looked on. She was unresponsive by the time that paramedics transported her to an emergency room.
The victim awakened in a hospital room with a plastic cone around her neck and a piercing pain going up to her skull. Before that afternoon, she’d jog around her neighborhood every morning. Now, the family has been overcome by medical expenses, and their health insurance just won’t be enough to cover a lifetime of care.
The accident left the mother of two paralyzed from the waist down from a torn spinal cord. She also suffered a fractured skull and a traumatic brain injury. Notwithstanding a lengthy hospitalization at Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center, the woman is not expected to walk again. A spokesman for the city remarked that “Given all of the circumstances in this matter, we think this settlement is appropriate.”
The woman sued the City of San Francisco in November of 2016. The basis of her allegations was that the city’s parks department did not properly maintain Canary Island pine trees at the park. Her lawyers insisted that the city was aware of other times when tree branches had fallen at the park. They maintained that the tree had been pruned by a tree topping method that results in branches being grown that are too heavy and large for the tree to support. The Canary Island pines were recently removed from the park’s playground area. They were reportedly damaged by a contractor when the playground was rebuilt.
California landowners have a duty to periodically inspect trees on their property so as to be sure that they’re healthy and don’t pose a risk to anybody who is on their property. It appears as if the trees in Washington Square Park were inspected about six years before the subject accident. California property owners and government entities can be held liable for negligent maintenance of their trees if they cause injury, regardless of whether or not they knew of a dangerous condition that could injure or kill people.