Whittier will pay $28 million to the family of a grandmother killed by a falling tree

The family of a 61-year-old San Pedro grandmother who was killed by a falling tree while posing for a photo at her daughter’s 2016 wedding has reached a tentative settlement with the city. 

The city of Whittier California has agreed to pay $28 million to the family of Margarita Mojarro according to court papers filed with the plaintiffs attorney. 

The lawsuit was originally filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in April 2017 alleging wrongful death and that a dangerous condition of public property existed.

According to the complaint, the tree which toppled over in the park at about 4:30 PM on December 17, 2016, was overwatered and allowed to grow on an unsafe 20% grade. 

“What makes these circumstances even more tragic is the simple fact that the complete failure of the subject tree was entirely avoidable,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys state in their court papers.

Matteo Garbelotto, who holds a doctorate in forest pathology and microbiology, examined the remains of the tree and submitted a declaration on behalf of the plaintiffs.

“The decaying branch stub where decay started would have been visible 10-plus years prior to the accident,” Garbelotto wrote.

And because the tree was located on a steep bank and was allegedly excessively watered, it should have been “identified as a tree requiring to be inspected closely and often at a level beyond the simple visual inspection,” he said.

Root damage to the tree was extensive and could have been detected by probing the surfacing roots for at least five years before the fall, according to Garbelotto.

In earlier court papers seeking dismissal of the suit, lawyers for the city stated that the accident was “a tragic stroke of nature” and that “there is no basis for concluding that Whittier is at fault or liable to plaintiffs under California law.”

Arborists hired by the city trimmed the tree in 2014 “and reported nothing to Whittier about any problems with the tree,” according to the defense’s court papers, which also say that Whittier’s park manager inspected the tree two months before the accident “and saw no indications of disease, decay or any other reason for concern.”

Before it fell that day, the city never received any complaints, reports or problems about the tree, according to the city’s court papers.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys maintained, however, the city knew of the dangerous condition of the tree and had the means and authority to protect park visitors against such a tragedy.

Source: Whittier Daily News
The article may be edited for style and length.