City of San Diego Found Guilty in Tree Failure Accident

The City of San Diego was found guilty in a lawsuit brought by an attorney, Mr. Michael Burke.  Mr. Burke was injured when a 60′ Queen Palm feel on top of his car, crushing Mr. Burke’s legs, leaving him a paraplegic.

Mr. Burke claimed the cutbacks in the City of San Diego trimming and inspection services contributed to leaving a dangerous tree in place that should have been removed.  The City of San Diego claimed it was an unforeseeable accident and the city was not responsible.   Certified and consulting arborists face this dilemma daily.

Even when paid to inspect and assess a potentially “risky” tree, there is no guaranteeing the accuracy of a risk assessment.  However,  best management practices established by the International Society of Arboriculture in tree risk assessment continue to improve and are the current state of the art in trying to identify tree defects that increase risk to people and property.

I do not believe there is a quantitative or qualitative measure whether city cutbacks contributed to this tree accident.  Even without cutbacks, the city may have never notice or inspected this or other at risk Queen Palms.  At the same time, the city is tasked to protect the public.   As a public agency, their park and rec department should be highly suspect of old trees (40 years plus) planted in restricted parkways (2′ wide) with turf grass underneath  Inverted cone syndrome from years or decades of constant turf mowing and string trimming is a fairly easy defect to identify.  Oozing from spike holes is obvious.

There are lots of inappropriately located trees throughout our urban forest.  Many older parts of the city have small restricted parkways planters, as small as 18″-24″ wide, with huge palms and other large Ficus and Eucalyptus trees  planted within.  Concrete sidewalks, curb and gutter is lifted surrounding these plants.  These old trees were fine 50 years ago, but many have now outlived there usefulness and are in inappropriate locations creating potentially hazardous situations.   Be aware of trees around you, your home and vehicle.  Accidents happen, reduce the risk posed by hazardous trees by consulting with a certified arborist and certified tree risk assessor.

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About Jeremy Rappoport