Injured Boy Obtains $47.5M Settlement After Catastrophic Tree Injury in San Mateo County Park

Tan_oaksWhen you hear the phrase “premises liability,” one very understandable reaction might be, “What’s that?” Another is to assume that “premises liability” comes up only in situations where a person suffers a slip-and-fall or trip-and-fall accident at a place of business. The reality is that premises liability can cover a variety of scenarios, extending beyond just slip-and-fall and trip-and-fall injuries. If you have been hurt while you were on someone else’s property, you may have a case and an entitlement to compensation. Contact an experienced California injury lawyer to learn more.

One example of this “other” type of premises liability injury took place recently here in San Mateo County. A 12-year-old boy and his family were camping in the San Mateo County Memorial Park when a 72-foot-tall tree fell on his tent. The early morning tree collapse was the result of a fungus that left the diseased tree rotten and unstable. In order to save the boy’s life, doctors amputated one of his legs and part of his pelvis.

The boy sued for premises liability. A premises liability case, whether it is a slip-and-fall, trip-and-fall or a case like this one, requires you, as the injured person, to give the court proof that the person/entity you sued is liable through negligence. In other words, you need proof that the person or entity who owned or controlled the property either acted improperly or improperly failed to act and that your injury was the reasonably foreseeable result of that negligence.

In premises liability, that can mean a failure to maintain the property properly, failing to inspect the property sufficiently or flat-out creating the danger through negligence. In this boy’s case, the assertion was that the tree in question had visible structural defects. The tree’s rot and lack of bark around the trunk made it a clear risk of falling onto a campsite, yet the county did nothing, according to the complaint.

When you pursue a premises liability lawsuit, you may face an assertion of what’s called an “affirmative defense,” such as immunity. In this case, the county asserted a defense of “natural condition immunity.” This law said that a government entity could not be liable for an injury caused by a natural condition “on any unimproved public property.” The county’s argument that was the tree was in a natural state, that the fungus was naturally occurring and, as a result, the disease and collapse were natural, too, and the county could not possibly be liable.

Even when your opposing party asserts an affirmative defense and claims immunity from liability, you may still be able to overcome it and go forward with your case. In this boy’s litigation, he presented proof that, while the tree might have been in a natural condition, the area around it was not. Specifically, the boy’s theory, expressed through providing the court with expert opinion testimony, was that the improvements that the county had made to the area near the tree, such as removing other trees, removing mulch, grading of soil for a road and changes to the drainage made the site a more favorable environment for the growth of the fungus that felled the tree. Given this evidence, the county was not entitled to immunity and the boy was entitled to proceed with his case. Having overcome the county’s summary judgment request, the boy was in a much stronger position to negotiate a settlement. The county agreed to pay $30 million while a contractor agreed to pay an additional $17.5 million, according to a Washington Post report.

For all your personal injury legal needs, contact the skilled San Mateo premises liability attorneys at the Law Offices of Galine, Frye, Fitting & Frangos. Our attorneys have been helping injured people navigate the legal system for many years. To set up a free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys, contact us at 650-345-8484 or through our website.

More Blog Posts:

Obtaining a Fair — and Complete — Settlement Agreement in Your California Personal Injury Case, San Mateo Injury Lawyers Blog, Published June 6, 2018

How the Option of a Default Judgment Can Help You Succeed in Your California Premises Liability Case, San Mateo Injury Lawyers Blog, Published April 26, 2018

Photo Credit: Jeffrey A. Mai – USDA Forest Service, [CC0 License], via Wikimedia Commons