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A Falling Pine Tree Branch in a California Park Kills One Woman, Puts Three People in the Hospital

A lot of times, when you hear the words “premises liability,” you might first think of a slip-and-fall or trip-and-fall accident in a store or other place of business. The reality is, though, that the law of premises liability in California exists to protect more than shoppers and other guests on commercial properties. It can include slip-and-fall and trip-and-fall accidents, but also swimming pool accidents or broken sidewalk accidents, as well. Basically, if you’ve been hurt on property belonging to someone else because they didn’t keep their property sufficiently safe, you may have a case for compensation and should contact a knowledgeable San Mateo injury attorney without delay.

Another kind of accident that may potentially present a case for premises liability damages is falling tree branch accidents. California has seen several of these accidents trigger litigation in recent years, and another falling tree branch accident has occurred just recently here in San Mateo County, this time with tragic results.

Late last month, according to a Facebook post issued by Burlingame City Hall, a tree limb of approximately 60 feet in length “dropped suddenly.” The branch crashed down upon a group of people picnicking in Washington Park and killed a 29-year-old woman. Additionally, three other people were hospitalized as a result of the impact, according to the San Mateo Daily Journal. The Daily Journal also indicated that the city had, following the accident, hired independent arborists to examine and assess the condition of the large pine tree.

Here in California, the law says that, if you are the owner or the occupier of a property onto which guests or visitors might enter, you have a legal obligation to keep that property reasonable safe. That means that, if there’s a hazard on that property that is not “open and obvious” and that poses a risk of harm to guests, you must either fix it or else provide sufficient warnings about the hazard’s presence.

Owners have a duty to maintain, to inspect, and to repair and/or warn

The duty that the law places on a property owner often includes requirements to maintain the property, inspect the property, and correct any dangerous conditions or else warn guests about the dangers. This obligation may extend to a store owner with a spilled liquid in one of its store aisles or a homeowner with a swimming pool on the property.

Additionally, though, those duties can also extend to governmental entities, including municipal governments whose trees have caused injuries. Earlier this year, a family successfully reached a $7 million settlement after a falling eucalyptus tree branch struck a 2-year-old girl, fracturing her neck. The tree, which was located in a City of Pasadena park adjacent to the child’s day care, shed the branch while the girl played outside at day care. According to the family’s legal team, the city had known about issues with the tree and its falling branches for more than a year.

Previous cases have produced successful settlements

Back in 2018, a Bay Area mom obtained a $14 million settlement in an accident with many similarities to the Burlingame one. The mother was taking her daughters to Washington Square Park in San Francisco when a large pine tree shed a 100-pound branch. The falling branch slammed into the mother, fracturing her skull and severing her spinal cord, which left her permanently paralyzed from the waist down.

In the San Francisco case, the mother’s premises liability argument was not that the city negligently failed to take action, but that the action it did take was negligently performed. Specifically, her case asserted that the city’s method for pruning trees exacerbated the problem of large, heavy, weak tree branches prone to breaking off and falling.

Also in 2018, a San Mateo family obtained a $47 million settlement against San Mateo County after a 72-foot-tall tree crashed down on the family’s tent while they camped at a county park. The accident, which resulted in doctors amputating part of a 12-year-old boy’s pelvis and one of his legs, allegedly was the result of the county’s failure to identify that the tree was rotten and unstable due to fungus growth.

As these cases show, the legal system does provide options for you if you were hurt in a premises liability accident, even if you were on public property at the time. Obtaining a successful outcome, especially against a public entity, is something that can be tricky and requires the right legal knowledge and skill. Count on the experienced San Mateo injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Galine, Frye, Fitting & Frangos for the legal help you need. Our attorneys have many years of experience helping injured people and their families to get the compensation they deserve through legal action. To set up a free consultation with one of our helpful attorneys, contact us at 650-345-8484 or through our website.

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