A man struck by falling cottonwood limb settles with Billings, Montana for $370K

A Billings, Montana man who was sent to the hospital after being struck by a falling tree limb settled a lawsuit with the city for $370,000.

On June 2, 2017, Dave Myers and his family were at Veterans Park for an outdoor movie hosted in part by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. Dave and his wife were sitting on a blanket when a limb from a cottonwood tree broke loose and fell on them. The tree branch struck Dave and broke three of his ribs and punctured a lung.

Myers was taken to the hospital, where he underwent two surgeries and spent time in the intensive care unit. According to filings by Myers’ attorney, he incurred $462,905 in medical bills.

Attorneys for the city said the amount was overstated. 

Veronica Procter, Dave Myers’ attorney, argued the city didn’t do enough to ensure the tree was safe. Procter cited a report by an arborist the city had hired after the branch fell recommending removal of the tree. That arborist noted zig-zagging patterns in the tree bark, indicating the tree was sagging under its own weight. He also noted patches of deadwood showing decay.

The wood fibers in cottonwood trees are relatively weak, making it easier for branches to shed, according to the arborist hired by Myers. The plaintiff’s arborist also noted the tree showed evidence of a lightning strike, which would have weakened the tree and could have made it more susceptible to rot.

Attorneys for the city said the broken branch was a natural failure the city couldn’t have foreseen, and that all trees in developed city parks have been inventoried and are pruned on a seven-year cycle. City Attorney Brent Brooks said that the schedule exceeds best practice standards. 

City workers had visually inspected the tree each year and determined it to be in good shape, the city said. 

The same tree had been used in a youth tree-climbing event on Arbor Day a month before the branch broke. The city had an arborist inspect the tree before the event and concluded it was safe for kids to climb from ropes.

Dave Myers settled for $370,000, with the city admitting no wrongdoing. The case was set to begin on Tuesday.

Source: Billings Gazette