A San Bruno family has filed a lawsuit against Menlo College seeking more than $2.5 million in damages after a woman and her then 2-year-old daughter were injured when a large branch snapped off a tree and fell on them during a picnic in August 2017. Another woman who was injured in the incident has filed a separate lawsuit against the Atherton college.
A 50-foot-long heritage oak tree branch fell and struck Jasmine Garcia and her daughter Zealyn while they stood on the school’s quad during a company picnic, according to a suit filed Dec. 28 in San Mateo County Superior Court against the college.
Zealyn was knocked unconscious and suffered a fractured skull and severe eye lacerations; she was reported at the time to have a potential concussion and traumatic brain injury. The little girl was taken to Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, where she underwent surgery on her right eye.
According to the lawsuit, Zealyn still has scars on her face from the cuts caused by the tree branch.
"Zealyn’s age at the time of the incident (two years old) complicates her prognosis and recovery," Rowena Seto of the Medina Seto Law Group, which is representing the Garcia family, said in an email. "It is difficult to discern the extent of neurological and neuropsychological injuries when they are sustained at such a young age. Indeed, there are very few neuropsychologists in the Bay Area of whom I’m aware that will treat or evaluate patients as young as Zealyn."
Garcia, who was pregnant at the time of the incident, suffered a broken toe, a sprained ankle, a head injury and cuts and bruises, among other injuries.
The family is seeking $2.5 million in damages and an unspecified amount in economic, punitive and other damages against the college, according to the lawsuit.
An arborist hired by Medina Seto examined the tree, but testing was limited because the college removed the rest of the branch after the incident, according to the lawsuit. The rest of the tree was cut down shortly thereafter.
“Notwithstanding the obvious signs that the failure of the subject tree was imminent and inevitable and despite their prolonged failure to maintain or inspect the subject tree and others on the property, Menlo College recklessly advertised its property, including the quad, as available for rent for events such as corporate picnics, weddings and private parties,” the lawsuit states.
A Menlo College spokesperson declined to comment on the lawsuits.
“The tree bough (branch) that fell was really massive,” Seto said. “The branch (that fell) made up about 25 percent of the tree’s total canopy. ... it’s egregious to think that Menlo College neglected their legal duty to inspect and maintain their tree and instead profited.”
Garcia's husband Chris and their daughter Irelyn were physically unharmed in the incident but have suffered psychological trauma from witnessing it, according to the lawsuit.
The tree branch also injured two other women — Julie Dale and Jodi Cohen. Dale, who is also represented by Medina Seto, filed a lawsuit against Menlo College on Dec. 28.
Dale was sitting at one of the picnic tables directly under the tree when the branch fell. She was taken to Stanford Hospital with a concussion, an eye injury, a cut on her forehead that required stitches, a sprained ankle and other injuries. She may also have long-term neurological damages from the incident, according to the lawsuit. She is seeking unspecified damages for her injuries. Read her filing here.
If the tree branch had fallen just an hour earlier, more people could have been hurt or even killed, Seto said.
“The space had cleared out because most people had finished eating,” she said. “It really could have been a greater tragedy had that (tree branch) come down only an hour before."
Seto said the college hasn’t apologized to the Garcias, which is something the family is “really dismayed about,” she said.
Case management conferences for both lawsuits are scheduled for 9 a.m. on May 1.
Read the full Garcia lawsuit here.