A judge has dismissed a woman’s lawsuit regarding a eucalyptus branch that fell on her as she was walking on a paved path near Mission Bay, according to recent reports. The woman was seeking $25 million in damages for injuries she suffered when she was struck by a falling branch in 2013. She maintained that the path was dangerous and that the city of San Diego had a duty to make it safe for those who used it.
The City Attorney’s Office, who defended the city in the case, was able to argue successfully that municipalities enjoy statutory immunity for the condition of pathways that give the public access to recreational areas. This immunity was given to cities to encourage them to open property for public use and to avoid the closure of recreational areas due to injury claims.
The city argued that hundreds of thousands of people use the train annually, including walkers, skateboarders, bicyclists and rollerbladers and that all are traveling at different speeds, making it impossible to create safe conditions for everyone.
The danger of a dismissal of a lawsuit such as this one is that other victims may believe that they have no grounds to recover damages for their injuries. The fact is that lawsuits are judged by their individual merits, not as part of a collective rule. That means that while one victim may not be able to collect compensation for an injury on public property, another victim might be able to do so. Success would depend on the circumstances of the case and whether someone was clearly negligent.
The falling tree branch case may have been dismissed because the judge believed that there was no way the city could have known that a random branch would fall from a tree. The judge may have thought that there was nothing the city could have done differently that would have prevented the accident. Therefore, finding negligence, in this case, might have been difficult.
However, if a city employee deliberately left debris from a worksite in a path that is known to be used at night, and someone walking down the path tripped and fell over the debris due to poor visibility, it is very possible that the victim might have a strong personal injury case against the city. In that case, the judge might well determine that the city employee should have known that a hazardous condition was created.
If you have questions about an injury you have received and whether you may be able to collect compensation, contact attorney Dan Gilleon in San Diego immediately.